It’s been more than 18 months since Paul Jadin took over the eight-county economic development organization formerly known as Thrive.
Much has changed since then. Not only was the old moniker dropped in favor of the new name of MadREP, but the staff has been beefed up considerably and the group has a revamped board of directors.
“When I arrived, we had an intern and an essentially a vice president of marketing,” said Paul Jadin, former mayor of Green Bay and the head of that city’s Chamber of Commerce.
“We now have seven full-time staff including three vice presidents, one dealing with economic development, one in human capital, one in marketing and we have support staff dealing with research and diversity issues … as well as innovation and entrepreneurship.
“So when you ask how things have changed, it’s all about capacity,” added Jadin, former secretary/CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. “We clearly have significantly more capacity as a result of those changes.
“We are at the point where our Advance Now strategy is getting into its second-plus year. I feel very good that we are now a full-fledged, robust economic development organization. I think 2014 and 2015 are going to be very good years for us.”
Jadin credited the staff expansion to a fund-raising effort that increased the budget by about 50 percent, from roughly $800,000 annually to around $1.2 million.
He said the name was changed in May of last year to give the organization geographical focus.
“If you said Thrive to someone in Phoneix, it could easily have been some place in Saskatchewan. We wanted to make sure when people were Googling Madison, they were getting to us,” he said. “So we led with Madison, the community that had the most name recognition. We vetted it before we did it with all our economic development partners and they unanimously agreed.”
Jadin said his short-term goals for MadREP include making contacts with as many as 1,000 regional companies as part of its business and retention efforts.
“We’re also in the process of setting up our international steering committee,” he said. “We have a variety of other things we are working on in economic development, primarily on the entrepreneur and innovation front.”
For the long-term, he said his agency will focus on the five planks of its Advance Now platform. They include economic competitiveness, entrepreneurship and innovation, human capital, leadership and diversity, and marketing.
‘With marketing, we want to make sure we are on everybody’s radar screen throughout the country and that people are touting Madison as an IT hub, for instance, and touting the region as the heart of America’s breadbasket,” he said.
On the entrepreneurship and innovation side, he said he wants to make sure mentors are available for those who want to start companies and that they have government and private-sector funding available to them.
To get a better handle on so-called human capital, Jadin said MadREP is talking with the K-12 system, technical colleges and the UW to better track graduates to meet business needs. He said his agency is also working with “Inspire Wisconsin” to implement a software program in the schools so students can communicate with professionals or tradespeople about careers.
Jadin said he wants to help more companies get export technology training to bring more foreign direct investment here and introduce more regional firms to global markets. Though retention, growth and startups are the agency’s main priorities, he said attracting new companies to the region is also a goal.
“We want to be in a position whenever we get a request for information we’re going to be on a short list very quickly,” he said. “That means working very hard on the site selector community around the country to make sure that they know us and that we have an opportunity to bring (them) and commercial realtors here to introduce them to the Madison region and get them to fall in love with us.”
Jadin also said diversity and leadership are important areas for MadREP.
“We just finished a very successful leadership summit in the last couple of weeks and it’s likely that we will have three significant initiatives coming that we’ll be implementing over the next year,” he said.
Asked to compare the state capital with his former home, Jadin said Green Bay is oriented more toward manufacturing while Madison is known for its emphasis on information technology, government and the University of Wisconsin.
Once outside of Madison, however, the region has a lot more manufacturing in places like Rock and Columbia counties, he said.
And they both have prominent football teams, he noted.
“Madison leads with UW sports and I always liked to say that Green Bay’s Eiffel Tower is the Packers,” he quipped.
Jadin said it’s hard to overstate Epic System’s “extraordinary” impact on the region, due in large part to the company’s 6,800 employees, their high salaries and the spinoff startups former staffers are creating.
“They aren’t just one- or two-person shops either,” he said. “They’re making a name for Madison as an IT hub, along with having a Google office here. I think the world is starting to pay attention to that a bit more.”
Jadin said he hopes to build on Epic’s and its former employees’ success, looking to provide anyone looking to start a company with access to mentors, workspaces and ultimately to capital.
Though Epic guards its privacy, he said the company cooperates with MadREP when it asks for data on things that that site selectors want to know such as the number of employees it hires a year. At the organization’s request, Epic took a Forbes writer on a tour of its ever-expanding Verona facilities.
“Everyone knows that Epic is a very quiet company, ” he said. “We respect that, but we will continue to push them to play as big a role (with MadREP) as possible.”
Jadin said he is pleased with how WEDC is doing since he departed in the fall of 2012. He announced his departure from the agency two months after Gov. Scott Walker shook up the WEDC staff following the disclosure of bidding process problems. Walker dumped several top officials at WEDC, but kept Jadin in place.
“I see (WEDC Secretary/CEO) Reed Hall now quite a bit,” Jadin said. “I think it is doing very well and I thought it was doing very well two years ago. The new divisions … are all functioning extremely well.
“International has made extraordinary strides in terms of opening up new markets throughout the world. They are somewhere in the 30s in terms of where they have a network. It was four just four years ago.”
— By Brian E. Clark