David Baskerville says Wisconsin needs “stretch targets” in a big way — and this has nothing to do with Wisconsinites’ penchant for fatty foods.
It’s about positioning the state economy for future growth.
Fist, the retired executive and international consultant would like the Badger State to increase its per capita income to 10 percent above Minnesota’s within 20 years. Wisconsin – which led its neighbor to the west until 1980 – currently lags behind Minnesota in per capita income by a hefty $4,600, says Baskerville.
The second goal is for Wisconsin students to reach the math test score levels of their counterparts in Singapore and Finland, Japanese levels in science and Canadian levels in reading. If they don’t, he says, Wisconsin will fall further behind its national and international competition and have a harder time attracting companies to set up shop in the Badger state – to say nothing of keeping the ones that are here.
“In visits to many, many factories, I observed that somehow our workers weren’t reading, writing and counting as well as workers in the first world and even some of the developing countries,” he says.
Baskerville, who was born and raised in Madison, spent eight years in Japan with his Lutheran missionary parents. He went to business school in Boston and had a 40-year-long career away from the Badger State. He returned to the capital city in 1993 to set up a consulting office from where he mostly helping Fortune 500 companies with their strategic planning.
He was in China five times last year, but plans to reduce that work as he spends more time garnering support for his stretch targets for Wisconsin. He currently distributes a scorecard every four months tracking how the state is doing. He now has around 200 recipients, but has the lofty goal of reaching several million.
Baskerville wants to make it clear that he thinks Wisconsin – warts and all – is a wonderful state. And he’s more than a little proud of UW-Madison, one of the country’s top research universities, and homegrown success stories like Promega and Epic.
“I love the four seasons, and I have no regrets about living here, even when it is minus 10 below zero,” quipped Baskerville, who says former colleagues who now live in Florida or Hawaii sometimes call him during the winter to ask about life in the frozen north.
“Wisconsin is great, but it’s in trouble economically and it’s not going forward in the right direction,” he said. “And like many parts of the country – most of them – we also have real challenges in K-12 education.”
Baskerville says he’s politically independent, but has become an activist in order to hold state leaders accountable.
“I’ve been drawn into this, because I care about our state and because I think my business experience could be helpful,” he said. “In business, it’s important to get an organization committed to long-term goals – which they usually only do because they are in dire straits or have an unusual opportunity.
“It also can bring the troops together, so to speak. It takes a lot of work because the first reaction in an organization with stockholders and boards is ‘You can’t do it… shouldn’t do it… no one has ever done it … we don’t have the resources to do it…'”
But Baskerville says such goals can work, citing the U.S. successful target of putting a man on the moon or the work of Louis Gerstner, credited with turning IBM around in the 1990s.
“The reason I think this should apply to Wisconsin is that we have many good people here,” says Baskerville, who argued that the Badger State should go after foreign investment aggressively. He notes that since the 1980s, other states have attracted 16 good-paying, foreign automobile factories.
But with the current hyper-partisan political climate in Wisconsin, he says it will take a groundswell of effort by ordinary and angry citizens – not politicians at the top – saying “this is where we ought to be.”
Adds Baskerville: “But we have the resources to get there if we have the political will. And by the way, we have a fairly simple scorecard to keep track of our progress.”
Baskerville likes to use the comparison to Minnesota because it is demographically similar to Wisconsin and has even colder winters.
During his numerous trips to Minnesota, he’s realized “something different is going on up there.
“When I was a kid growing up in the 40s and 50s we had a better economy than Minnesota. Starting in 1980, they moved ahead of us. During that time, they have moved from No. 19 to No. 14 in the country. We have moved from No. 18 to No. 30. That tells me something isn’t going quite right. They have many times the venture capital investments that we have and they’ve been able to keep more of their large company headquarters from departing. But I think there’s more, too.”
For more information on Baskerville’s scorecard and stretch goals, seewisconsin2.org .
— By Brian E. Clark