If the Madison and the surrounding region want to compete with cities like Austin, Boulder, and Seattle, it needs to do a better job of selling itself.
That was a major takeaway from a talk given by Paul Jadin, the former state economic development chief and current head of the eight-county economic development group known as MadREP.
“We’re already in a position where we can feel comfortable about how we stack up with them,” he said, following a speech to a Madison Rotary group at the Inn at the Park hotel. “But we have to improve how we get the world to understand what’s going on here. And that’s all related to marketing.
“If we do that, we’ll attract more young people to our workforce and more businesses will be attracted to that workforce in a spiraling effect. That’s happening now with Epic and it’s doing astonishing things. We need to tell their story and make it better understood, especially with all the spinoffs their former employees have been able to create.
“Unfortunately, humility is the bane of Wisconsin’s economy. We’re a humble population. And in the Madison area, we’ve just thought economic development happens on its own. But in the past few years, people have realized we do have to work at it in order to be competitive.”
He said MadREP is working on attracting more information technology companies to Madison, which is said is an area strength – thanks in large part to UW graduates and research coming out of the university.
Jadin, a former mayor of Green Bay, walked a crowd of more than 150 through MadREP’s Advance Now economic development strategy, which was developed in late 2011 and is part of a nine-region statewide economic development program.
“We are boots on the ground for the state,” he said, noting that he and his staff of seven work with city and country economic development authorities, Chambers of Commerce and private sector groups. He said the 95 economic development professionals work in the eight-county MadREP region, which has a population of 1.1 million.
Jadin said it would be “foolhardy” to duplicate the work they are already doing. “So what we are trying to do is boost what they do well already” and add to the assets that they already have.
He said none of the eight counties had an international effort prior to the creation of MadREP.
“That was an area we wanted to kick off in at least seven of the eight counties,” he said, noting that the Madison Chamber now has its own international program.
He said MadREP is also involved in advancing workforce development, entrepreneurship and innovation, competitiveness, cooperation and marketing.
Jadin, the former head of Green Bay’s Chamber of Commerce, said the New North economic group he helped found struggled to overcome the region’s stereotype as home to chubby guys who took off their shirts at football games during freezing weather, wore foam cheese wedges on their heads, drank a lot of beer and ate a lot of brats.
“That may be good for football, but we wanted to make sure that we improved that image significantly, so we embarked on an effort to present a more sophisticated image,” he said.
“That, too, is an issue for the Madison area. The country and even the world has an impression of Madison that doesn’t necessarily go to the economy. So we are trying to accelerate that to where the view is good and get people to understand that we do indeed belong in the same conversation as places like Boston, Boulder, Austin and Seattle.”
— By Brian E. Clark