WisBusiness: Wisconsin in better economic shape than other states

By Rebecca Kontowicz

Wisconsin is poised to weather the cooling U.S. economic climate better than other parts of the nation, panelists at an economic forum in Milwaukee said today.

“We are facing a period of great uncertainty,” stated Michael Knetter, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business.

“Regionally things won’t feel nearly as bad. Things are better for Wisconsin than the nation,” he added.

A group of corporate administrators, entrepreneurs and businessmen and women gathered for an Economic Trends 2008 breakfast at the Italian Community Center, to discuss the economy and cast predictions for the year ahead. The event was sponsored by Northern Trust and The Small Business Times.

“We need to absolutely resist the urge to lock everything down,” said Jeffery Yabuki, president and chief executive officer of Fisery Inc. Yabuki also stressed that making some investments while looking for opportunities to reinforce optimism will position Wisconsin businesses to “capture opportunity when the dust settles.”

Yabuki said that with Wisconsin likely to fare better than other areas, the greater Milwaukee area could be a perfect location for people of talent to search for employment.

John Mellowes, chairman and chief executive officer of Charter Manufacturing Co. Inc., predicted a rough year ahead, with high costs for the steel and automotive industry. Mellowes expects automobile sales to drop another 5 percent in 2008, but he predicted an increase in demand in 2010.

David Westgate, president and CEO of Jason Inc., which manufactures auto parts, said that among major U.S. automakers, General Motors is in good shape while Chrysler is seeing a lack in growth.

“The economy seems to be entering a recessionary period,” said Westgate.

He said he believes, however, that businesses should make it a goal to stay close to customers and diversify their portfolio in order to see modest growth throughout the troubled times ahead.

State Rep. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) endorsed “tax relief that protects jobs,” including the corporate income tax rate.

Vukmir also touched on Gov. Jim Doyle’s State of the State address. “It was music to my ears,” said Vukmir, in reference to Doyle’s support of market based health care reform.

Within the next few weeks Vukmir, chair of the Assembly Committee on Health and Healthcare Reform, said she will will present proposals that will “bring more insurers to Wisconsin and provide employers and employees with the opportunity to choose what care provider fits their needs and create price disclosure.”

Vukmir also emphasized a need for BadgerCare reform, focusing on taking people off of Medicaid so they would rely more on private insurance to create a “competitive health care market where one currently does not exist.”