Free Tuesday Trends sample: Tourism rising, venture capital mixed and WEDC falling

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RISING

Tourism: A report issued by the state Department of Tourism shows the industry had a total impact of $16.8 billion in Wisconsin last year, a 5 percent increase over the $16 billion economic impact in 2011. The analysis, compiled for the agency by Tourism Economics, also said strong day traveler growth pushed recreational spending up 7 percent, while overall hotel room revenue grew by 4.6 percent. The numbers also showed the level of employment in the state supported by tourism grew by 1.4 percent in 2012, totalling nearly 184,000 jobs. The Tourism Department credits some of the growth to more advertising that helped spread the word about Wisconsin’s attractions, particularly the new ad campaigns directed by David Zucker and featuring Robert Hays, both of “Airplane!” fame.

MIXED

Venture capital: A state Assembly committee, as expected, advances legislation to establish a $25 million fund to bolster investment in state startups. But a series of changes to the bill at the committee level leads to allegations of playing “partisan politics” — and puts the bill’s fate up in the air once again. The amendments backed in committee focus largely on how the embattled Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. would interact with the venture capital fund-of-funds. The lead author of the bill in the Assembly says Democrats are using the measure as a proxy battle to attack WEDC, but concedes that problems with that agency could lead the venture capital fund to be moved elsewhere. Another supporter says the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority could be one option, though others insist economic development issues should stay within the state’s designated economic development agency. Meanwhile, the bill — which was scheduled to be voted on by the full Assembly this week — is now in limbo.

FALLING

WEDC: The governor’s economic development engine continues to sputter after a dose of bad publicity, personnel problems and a critical audit. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.’s new chief financial officer stays in the job for just one day until departing for a better offer in the private sector, and the agency’s new spokesman is forced to resign after tax and worker’s comp problems are revealed. A state audit, meanwhile, shows the WEDC violated some state statutes and made some questionable purchases. Backers of the new agency say they were following existing policies from former state Commerce Department, attributing other issues outlined in the audit to growing pains. But even some Republicans concede the need for some fixes, and the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee votes to hold back some $55 million in WEDC funds until the agency submits a report detailing its compliance with the audit’s recommendations.