WisBusiness: Permanent new jobs key to Madison’s success

By WisBusiness Staff

Tim Cooley, Madison’s new economic development director, says creating and keeping new jobs is the key to the economic future of the capital city and its region.

Though Madison enjoys benefits of having state government and UW-Madison centered in its boundaries, Cooley said without permanent new jobs the glittering condos and office space are illusions of prosperity.

And right now, during this economic downturn, he says getting ready for the time when conditions improve is imperative. To that end, he’s working on an “ag-bio cluster” that could help provide new manufacturing jobs that “fit in well with the sensitivity to the environment and the workforce we’re developing.”

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But he told a WisBusiness.com luncheon at the Madison Club that he sees a “huge gap” between demand and the amount of early-stage risk capital available. That kind of money can help start new companies and get their leaders to put down the kind of roots that will keep them here. “The paralysis (of investors) is rampant,” said Cooley, who has returned to his hometown after a 30-year hiatus doing business in places including Southern California. “I fell in love with the city again.”

Cooley didn’t paper over some of Madison’s liabilities. He said priorities include the East Washington corridor and entrance to the capital city from the east. “Why we have to come in past the Department of Corrections and a porn shop …”

And he conceded that no matter how modern the airport, airlines may be tempted to withdraw when fuel prices rise again. Madison’s national airport status is “third tier.” Said Cooley, “No matter how you cut it, that’s where Madison is.”

He said high-speed rail could be a good way to hook up Madison with Chicago and Minneapolis but doesn’t want that to detract from the other transportation links.

He also boosted the benefits of tourism and the Monona Terrace convention center, saying adding a new Marcus Corp. hotel downtown across from its current Hilton property could bring in bigger conventions and push smaller events to other hotels downtown. “I really think this will raise all ships,” he said.