Biz leaders: Next WEDC chief needs strong private/public sector experience

The new head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. should have both a private and public sector background, business leaders from around the state say. Moreover, they add, that person should have the political smarts to be able to work successfully with legislators.

Paul Jadin, the former Green Bay mayor, announced in September that he would step down to head Thrive, the eight-county economic development partnership for the Madison region. He will start his new position Nov. 1.

Gov. Scott Walker has asked the WEDC board to conduct a national search for Jadin’s replacement; Walker said he hopes to have a candidate for the job by the time Jadin leaves.

Few, if any, names have been floated as possible successors to Jadin, these leaders said. But they all have ideas about the characteristics they’d like to see.

Mark Bugher, who runs University Research Park in Madison and is a former Department of Administration secretary, said the new WEDC leader should understand Wisconsin business needs and also be politically astute.

“That person should also be realistic about the limitations of the tools of WEDC,” he said.

Bugher also said he believes the next WEDC head should understand the Wisconsin business scene.

“He or she should know what Briggs and Stratton, Miller Brewing and Mercury Marine are,” he said. “That’s far more important than having run an economic development corporation in another state.”

Jeff Zriny, president of the Wausau Chamber of Commerce, said the new WEDC leader should have a proven track record in economic development and should also have run a business.

“Knowledge of how Wisconsin works would also be an asset,” he said.

Jim Pugh, a spokesman for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, said he believes it’s important to choose someone who understands Wisconsin’s business climate “because everyone agrees we need to focus on growing our own.”

Pugh also said he’d like to see “a leader who has a strong personality, a significant profile and can be a salesman for the state.”

Others said private sector experience would provide a valuable addition to the position.

Jerry Murphy, executive director of New North Inc., said he’d like to see a new WEDC leader with a lot of private sector experience. Murphy’s group promotes economic development for 18 counties in northern Wisconsin.

“The person who completes the task should have a proven private sector record,” he said. “Heading WEDC is a unique spot, so the person needs to be a hybrid who also understands what it’s like to deal with the public sector, too.”

Murphy said he believes a national search is a good idea.

“We need to find a C-level person who can find the shortest route to an outcome,” he said. “The ideal person would know the state, but that’s not the most important thing.”

But Tom Still, who leads the Wisconsin Technology Council, said someone with only private sector experience might not do well at WEDC, which is a quasi-government agency.

“The WEDC board should be looking for someone who has private sector experience, but can work well in a public setting. The state needs to have someone who understands public/private partnerships and how to use them to our best advantage.”

Shannon Full, who heads the Fox Cities Chamber, said Wisconsin is at a “critical time” in terms of its need for job growth.

“We need a strong visionary with a lot of experience in economic development, someone who can attract businesses to our state and enhance what we have here.”

She said the new leader should be an advocate for incentive packages to boost business expansion. And especially important, she said, is that that person understands the importance of local economic groups and how to “leverage those assets.”

**Praise for Jadin’s leadership**

As Jadin heads out the door, he was praised for tackling a tough job managing the transition from Commerce to WEDC, despite the setbacks seen under his watch.

Though WEDC had some missteps, the Tech Council’s Still said he thought Jadin did well.

“He was in the unenviable position of changing tires on a moving car,” he said. “Now WEDC can help grow the Wisconsin economy. I’m hoping it can hit its stride.”

Bugher said Jadin had a “terrific challenge” turning Commerce into a non-profit corporation.

“People don’t understand the impact that all the recent political turmoil had on the ability to get things done,” Bugher said. “It was a big barrier. Now, I, too hope WEDC can hit its stride. There will be bumps along the way, of course, and that’s to be expected.”

WMC’s Pugh said he believes Jadin, who serves on the WMC board, did a good job as head of the WEDC, given his short tenure.

“It took a while to get organized, but Paul pretty much took an idea and got it off the ground. He did a great job. His Chamber background certainly helped.”

The Wausau Chamber’s Zriny said he believes Jadin primed WEDC to move ahead under his successor.

“Now that the ducks are all lined up, it should be able to start producing results,” he said.

— By Brian E. Clark