By Brian E. Clark
MADISON – Gov. Jim Doyle’s proposed budget would keep funding at current levels of $320,000 annually for the state’s public-private economic development arm – Forward Wisconsin.
The budget also includes $590,000 a year for the state Commerce Department for additional economic development activities to promote the state, recruit new companies and help others expand their operations in Wisconsin.
Pepi Randolph, who will leave Forward late next month, praised the governor for including money for Forward. There had been speculation in recent weeks that with Randolph’s impending departure, Forward might not be funded. The agency receives about $480,000 a year from private firms.
“I think it’s great that Forward will continue because I think it does a good job selling Wisconsin,” said Randolph, a 45-year-old attorney who has headed the agency for two-and-one-half years. “I’m also pleased that the governor wants to put even more money into economic development and step things up to tell people about what is going on here. It’s a cause I really support.”
Randolph, who worked for the Milwaukee Brewers for more than a decade, will become national vice president of sales and marketing for the Potawatomi Business Development Corp. starting April 1. The corporation handles investments for the Forest County Potawatomi tribe, which runs the Potawatomi Bingo and Casino in Milwaukee.
Tony Hozeny, a spokesman for Commerce Secretary Mary Burke, said the new money – if the Legislature appropriates it – would be used to recruit to and expand companies in Wisconsin. It also might help fund regional economic development groups such as New North and Milwaukee 7, though Hozeny said those organizations have yet to apply for funding this year.
Jerry Franke, president of Wispark LLC and vice chairman of the Forward board, said he, too, is pleased that the governor included funding in his budget. But he noted that it was less than the $500,000 annually that the agency has received in recent years.
Doyle asked for that amount two years ago, but was rebuffed by the then Republican-controlled Legislature. The state Senate is now ruled by Democrats, ahile Republicans still have the Assembly.
“We are evaluating what has been proposed,” Franke said. “We are also aware that there is other money in the budget for economic development. We’re trying to figure out how it all works together.
Franke said a subcommittee of the Forward board will meet today and that the full board will meet later this month. He said he did not know when a replacement would be found for Forward’s outgoing president.