WisBusiness: Lawton applauds regional approach to economic downturn

By Tracy Will

For WisBusiness.com

Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton today told attendees at a state development conference that “the good news is in this room” where economic recovery efforts are concerned, adding that locally focused efforts would be key to a turnaround.

“There is no room for gadflies,” in economic development, Lawton told the Governor’s Conference on Economic Development, adding Wisconsin’s response to the downturn is on the right track because of “the work of the very innovative development groups around the state. They are building success stories.”

But Lawton also pointed out bad news outside the door, saying Gov. Jim Doyle may need to furlough workers “although he hopes to realize savings through attrition.” She said state bankruptcies were also on the rise, as were foreclosures in Wisconsin, up 20 percent so far this year.

But she compared Wisconsin’s budget picture favorably to that of California and its $42 billion deficit. She also noted that the state’s unemployment rate (5.8 percent in December) is better than the national rate of 8 percent. But she also noted that Wisconsin’s impending budget shortfall of nearly $600 million and a long-term gap of $5.75 billion pose serious problems.

Looking forward to efforts she said could help improve the economy, Lawton identified regional groups that have developed innovative responses across Wisconsin and with neighboring states to see what works in their communities.

Among the groups and efforts Lawton identified:

– The southwest Wisconsin company ArtsBuilt and its cooperative arrangement with the UW Platteville;

– River Seven and the work done by the La Crosse Tribune to organize Iowa and Minnesota counties to identify economic development opportunities;

– Chippewa Momentum and its expanded relations with the three western Wisconsin UW campuses: River Falls, Stout, and Eau Claire;

– A federal Department of Labor grant to identify regional development prospects in northwest Wisconsin and neighboring counties in Minnesota;

– Central Wisconsin’s Centergy, which she said was on the cutting edge of collaboration, organizing revolving loan funds through municipalities among eleven counties;

– Stevens Point’s efforts to revitalize the economic role of paper companies;

– New North’s support of the Wisconsin Windworks Project and organizing the efforts of nearly 75 companies in the Fox River watershed;

– Milwaukee Seven’s request of the Obama administration to include fresh water infrastructure as part of the stimulus package; and

– Dane County-centered Thrive, which intends to build on the county’s base of high tech, health care and energy alternatives.