WisBusiness: Commerce Secretary Burke stepping down

By Brian E. Clark

MADISON – Mary Burke will step down as head of the state Department of Commerce on Nov. 1, Gov. Jim Doyle announced today.

Burke, who has been commerce secretary for two-and-one-half years, said she is leaving to devote more time to her non-profit work and family interests. She is president of the Boy’s and Girls Club of Dane County and her family’s Trinity Foundation.

“I’ll miss the people, but this job is all-consuming,” said Burke, who said she was honored to hold the post. “But I’m leaving with the state headed in the right direction.

“I know that under the governor’s leadership, the state’s economy will grow and prosper,” he said. “I’m glad I’ve been able to help attract new jobs and companies to Wisconsin.”

Burke said she had enjoyed most aspects of her job.

“The only disappointments were people who persist in speaking negatively about the state’s business climate,” she said, declining to name names.

“Compared to a number of others, Wisconsin is doing quite well,” she said. “If we don’t speak positively about this state, no one else will.”

Doyle praised Burke’s tenure and said a new secretary will be appointed in the coming weeks.

“Secretary Burke has worked tirelessly to attract, strengthen and grow Wisconsin businesses and create good-paying jobs for our citizens,” Doyle said in a statement.

“She has been an asset to my administration and a valuable leader for our state’s economy. From promoting regional economic development and best practices in every part of the state, to improving accountability and efficiency in state government, her service will have a lasting impact.”

Mark Bugher, a cabinet secretary under former Gov. Tommy Thompson, said he was surprised by Burke’s announcement.

“Not that a job like that doesn’t burn you out, but you usually hear rumors about departures for a while before they happen,” said Bugher, who runs University Research Park in Madison and is active with economic development efforts.

“I think most people are just learning about it this afternoon. So no, I really haven’t had a chance to think about who would be a good replacement.

“But I hope it is someone who embraces her enthusiasm and outspoken positive salesmanship for our state,” added Bugher, who said Wisconsin is losing a strong advocate for its business community.

Tom Still, who runs the Wisconsin Technology Council, also said he did not know who might replace Burke.

“But it probably should either be an up-and-comer with credentials but not a lot of family ties. Or someone like a soon-to-retire CEO with a lot of connections.

“I don’t think, however, it’s a good spot for a mid-career person because of all the travel and extra effort that it requires,” he said.

Doyle lauded Burke for her accomplishments at Commerce, including:

• Streamlining and strengthening the state’s economic development efforts by improving accountability and ensuring companies that receive state support create jobs and grow Wisconsin economy;

• Encouraging development of regional business groups, such as Milwaukee 7, REDE and the New North;

• Creating thousands of jobs by attracting investment to Wisconsin for projects including the reopening of the paper mill in Park Falls, Abbott Laboratories purchase of 500 acres for a new corporate campus in Kenosha, Northwestern Mutual’s $70 million expansion in Franklin, and Kerry Corporation’s new R&D and headquarters in Beloit;

• Assisting early stage start-up companies and entrepreneurs, including increasing early-stage investing through the Wisconsin Angel Network, the Act 255 tax credit program and the Wisconsin Innovates conference;

• Promoting minority entrepreneurship through the Get Started, Get Growing initiative and implementing the state’s first Women Business certification program;

• Protecting the safety of Wisconsin residents by giving Safety and Building inspectors “red-tag” authority to shut down dangerous facilities and equipment across the state;

• Helping Wisconsin companies expand internationally. Since 2004, Wisconsin’s exports have grown nearly 50 percent, 7 percent faster than the national average.