WisBusiness: Bugher says don’t fret over Famous Footwear departure

By Brian E. Clark

The impending loss of Famous Footwear’s headquarters and its 270 corporate jobs is unwelcome, but Madison officials shouldn’t lose too much sleep over it.

That was the somewhat surprising assessment of Mark Bugher, board chairman of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. He spoke today at a luncheon sponsored by WisBusiness.com, Madison Magazine and the Madison Club.

“We understand that there will be disappointments along the way and that the overall economy in Madison will lose a Famous Footwear once in a while, but you’ll also pick up companies that you don’t expect,” said Bugher, director of Madison’s burgeoning University Research Park and a cabinet member under former Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Bugher said Wisconsin could not compete with Missouri, which reportedly is giving Brown Shoe Co. $43 million to stay in St. Louis and bring Famous Footwear and its employees to the Show Me State.

“We don’t do a lot of buying of jobs in Wisconsin,” said Bugher, who noted that the Badger State’s political culture doesn’t approve of these what he called “give-aways.”

“We are not a state that has traditionally relied on these ‘incentive’ programs to get companies to come here, though many of them are looking for that sort of thing.

“So when you here about a $43 million financing package that was offered to Brown Shoe to stay in St. Louis and attract the jobs from Madison to St. Louis, it’s pretty hard for Madison to compete with that,” he said.