WisBusiness: As Forward Wisconsin wanes, Commerce Department marketing role widens

By Brian E. Clark

For WisBusiness.com

An Eau Claire businesswoman is helping the state market itself as head of the Department of Commerce’s new Division of Global Ventures.

“Wisconsin has a strong and diverse economy, and I think it is an exciting story to tell,” says Mickey Judkins, the 54-year-old former president of the Eau Claire Economic Development Corporation.

“But … we can do a better job of getting our message out,” she acknowledges.

For the past 25 years, most of the state’s marketing beyond the borders was done by Forward Wisconsin, which is losing that role. Critics said it was hamstrung by inadequate funding. The current state budget provided it with $320,000 in public support.

Commerce Secretary Dick Leinenkugel told WisPolitics.com in March that Forward Wisconsin’s efforts were “not effective” and the new division would be better to “integrate with the new reality” of the marketplace.

Forward Wisconsin Vice Chairman Jerry Franke said the organization is changing to a new role of providing private funds to other groups or agencies for business recruitment.

Judkins says she doesn’t know what kind of budget she’ll have to promote Wisconsin at Commerce.

“That’s still being created, so I can’t speak to that specifically because that hasn’t been developed yet,” says Judkins, who has operated the Details women’s clothing store in Eau Clair for 32 years. She also owns a related on-line business called detailsdirect.com.

She spends five days a week in Madison, but returns to her Eau Claire hobby farm on weekends.

Judkins, who earns an annual salary of $92,366, says her division is now “responsible for attracting investment to Wisconsin both domestically and internationally.”

“And we are going to do that by very surgically targeting leading companies in industries where Wisconsin has a competitive advantage,” she says, citing precision manufacturing, biotechnology, nanotechnology and advanced agriculture.

She also is promoting the state’s universities and their “world-class R&D.”

Adds Judkins: “We are finding a lot of people and companies who are interested in coming in and using our intellectual capabilities.”

To sell Wisconsin and its advantages, she says her division researches industry sector leaders and their growth patterns.

“Then we approach them and tell them how Wisconsin can help them be successful in their business model and their growth plans,” she says. “I’ve found that to be very successful.”

She attends trade shows, including the international BIO gathering, which was held two years ago in Chicago and drew a large contingent from Wisconsin. It was in San Diego in 2008 and will be held this year May 18-21 in Atlanta.

Her duties in Georgia will include scheduling meetings for Gov. Jim Doyle and Commerce’s Leinenkugel with key executives to talk about Wisconsin and “why we think it would be important for them to grow here.”

Her division also is working with other business marketing organizations around the state.

“We want to work collaboratively to work with all our economic development groups,” she promises.

Judkins lauds the recently concluded Wisconsin Wind Energy Supply Chain Seminar that was held in Appleton and drew more than 600 businesses, including four of the world’s largest wind companies: Vestas, Siemens, Gamesa and GE Energy.

“This brought together the big wind turbine component manufacturers and some of our skilled manufacturing suppliers,” she says. “We’ve done very well at developing a wind energy cluster as well as (a cluster of) water-related technologies in the Milwaukee area.”