By Gregg Hoffmann
CASHTON – Just one day after some lawmakers said they will draft a bill to consolidate economic development efforts and improve monitoring of them, Gov. Jim Doyle swung through western Wisconsin Wednesday to announce grants and credits totaling more than $1.3 million.
Doyle announced a $626,000 Transportation Economic Assistance (TEA) grant for the City of Baraboo to help improve access to expansion of Teel Plastics Inc., a plastic tubing company; a TEA grant of $529,000 for the Village of Cashton to help access to a new distribution center for Organic Valley, a nationwide cooperative of organic family-owned farms; and $250,000 in Technology Zone tax credits for Mathews Inc., a Sparta archery manufacturer.
A state audit recently found that the some economic development programs are poorly tracked and sometimes duplicative. State Sen. Carol Roessler (R-Oshkosh), co-chair of the Joint Audit Committee, said at a hearing Tuesday that the committee would introduce a bill early next year that would eliminate some of the state’s 152 economic development programs.
The measure would also create a single point of contact for businesses that want information on grants, loans and tax credits, and require a routine report that details the successes and failures of all of the state’s job-creation efforts.
The audit found that it was often difficult to determine whether the state’s economic development programs were succeeding. It also said the programs were overseen by eight state agencies, making it difficult for businesses to navigate the bureaucracy.
Republican candidate for governor Mark Green issued an economic development plan Monday that included an expansion of tax credits and the replacement of the Department of Commerce with a board that would be headed by the governor. Doyle tried unsuccessfully to fold eight programs into one in his last budget.
But, none of the communities and businesses receiving the grants Wednesday were complaining about the state programs. “We thank the state for its support,” said Louise Hempstead, Chief Operating Office of Organic Valley. “The Village of Cashton has done aggressive work to keep up with this project. I think it shows the foresight of the village board and the state.”
“This tax credit will allow us to expand more quickly, hire more people and contribute to the long-term success of the Sparta operation,” said Martin Baird, Director of Finance for Mathews Inc.
Teel Plastics also received $115,000 from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in August to help research and develop new residential siding materials that use recycled maple wood fibers.
The TEA grant will be used for construction of Mine Road and will improve access to Teel Plastic, Inc.’s facility in Baraboo. The total cost of the project is $1,252,000 and the City of Baraboo is covering the remaining balance of the costs.
State Rep. Lee Nerison, who attended Doyle’s announcement in Cashton, said $300,000 had been included in the state budget for development of Cashton Greens, a business park that will include Organic Valley’s 80,000 square-foot distribution center and some anticipated alternative energy facilities.
While Doyle was touring western Wisconsin making his announcements, Agriculture Secretary Rod Nilsestuen announced the recipients of state agricultural development grants totaling $355,500. He said16 projects were selected for their innovation and potential for adding value to Wisconsin products, enabling farmers to compete at the high end.
Doyle touted the various economic grants in Cashton Wednesday. “Before coming here, we announced a grant for the maker of the finest hunting bows anywhere in the world,” said Doyle, referring to the Mathews grant in Sparta.
“This is just one more example of how the state can team up with businesses to help create new family-supporting jobs. This is a great day for Cashton and one more step in the effort to grow Wisconsin’s economy. We’ve created 170,000 jobs in the last three years and we must continue that effort.”
While on his tour, Doyle also announced that KT Engineering of Huntsville, Alabama, has developed a partnership with Walker Stainless Equipment Group of New Lisbon (Walker), Wisconsin, to produce fuel tanks for space shuttles.
“Manufacturing is at the heart of Wisconsin’s economy,” Doyle said. “The partnership between KT Engineering and Walker offers a tremendous long-term opportunity for Wisconsin to gain a foothold in the manufacturing of aerospace components. Businesses are choosing Wisconsin because our companies are innovative and we have created a thriving economy in our state.”
KT Engineering manufactures aerospace components and has designed a prototype tank for space shuttles, which will save 4-10 times the usual cost to manufacture the component. Walker will build the prototype and get it into production. The company will use state-of-the art robotics and this project will create up to 150 jobs at Walker during the next several years. This venture could eventually lead to more aerospace manufacturing business for Wisconsin.