State loan program on the table for WEDC’s new leader

Incoming WEDC secretary and CEO Mark Hogan hopes to work with lawmakers to see whether the state should bring back its loan program.

Some of the loans in that program — which is being phased out under the biennial budget — have faced criticism in media reports and state audits, which have found WEDC staff hasn’t always complied with state statutes and agency policies.

But at a Senate Economic Development and Commerce Committee meeting on Wednesday, Hogan and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, suggested lawmakers are considering bringing the program back.

“Being a commercial banker for 38 years I’m biased toward loans, but I also understand the risk that goes with making them,” Hogan said. “I also understand the importance of what they can do to provide [funds] especially for small businesses. That’s something that I’d like to look at a little more closely.”

Darling, meanwhile, said lawmakers are considering a “bipartisan effort to look again” at the program, as small businesses often struggle accessing capital.

“We need to look at the opportunity to have WEDC go back into that role of issuing revolving loans,” Darling said.

The committee met to discuss Hogan’s appointment to replace Reed Hall, who announced his retirement in August after three years with the agency.

Lawmakers from both parties thanked him for taking on the role, with Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, saying it “isn’t going to be an easy job, and the past is always going to come back to haunt.”

Hogan, who’s expected to start Monday, said he’s learned through the transition process that the agency “has a very good staff” and looks forward to the “privilege of getting involved with them.”

Hogan also addressed comments from some local economic development groups that have said WEDC’s partnerships with them could improve. He said WEDC should be a facilitator, only getting heavily involved when out-of-state companies like Amazon and Dollar General look to move to Wisconsin. He also pointed to a Legislative Audit Bureau report that noted 13 of 14 the groups the LAB contacted said they had positive contacts with WEDC.

“Whatever we can do to facilitate their efforts, that’s how I would view our role,” Hogan said.

— By Polo Rocha