Madison’s strengths, need for research support emphasized in DC

Last week’s “DC Meets Madison” event was a chance for the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce to emphasize the area’s evolving strengths and petition for continued support for research.

This was the first event of its kind, and according to Zach Brandon, chamber president, “there was a necessity to do it as well.”

“We did it because the Madison economy is at a moment where it made sense to be there,” he told “Things at the federal level can help or hurt our economy moving forward.”

The reception drew more than 250 people to the courtyard of the Rayburn House Office Building in the nation’s capital Wednesday. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan also hosted a breakfast that morning which was attended by legislators and chamber members.

At the chamber event, members met with U.S. Sens. Johnson and Baldwin as well as other policy makers, discussing trends of the Madison economy, including the risks to come “if we aren’t able to maximize our opportunities.”

The chamber made the case for maintaining funding of the National Institutes of Health, as well as the Small Business Innovation Research grant program. These grants play an important role in Madison’s business ecosystem, helping to turn bright ideas into viable companies with money from the federal government.

The event was also an opportunity to reinforce the work being done to base the F-35 aircraft in Wisconsin, Brandon said. While in DC, some chamber heads met with leadership from the Pentagon and the Air Force, as well as other military generals.

“I think we continued to represent this region, this state, as best place to base the F-35,” Brandon said. “Every opportunity we get to make that case moves the needle one more click in our direction.”

Another point of emphasis was keeping talent from the state’s top universities working and living in the U.S., particularly in Wisconsin.

“Imagine if we recruited the best to train at our military academies, and imagine if after everything we taught them, about espionage, counter intelligence… Imagine if we sent them back to other countries to wage war,” Brandon said.

This would never happen, he argues, so “it’s counterintuitive that we would do this at our research universities.”

Brandon says Madison’s growing health tech industry was also discussed, tying into the idea that software should now be considered one of Wisconsin’s greatest strengths, along with manufacturing, agriculture, logistics and printing.

According to him, around 3.8 percent of all U.S. software publishing jobs are based in the state of Wisconsin. Nearly the same amount of all U.S. manufacturing jobs as a percentage are based in Wisconsin — there’s just many more manufacturing jobs overall.

With about 1.8 percent of the U.S. population living in Wisconsin, “we’re punching well above our weight class,” Brandon says.

Many companies with ties to the region were represented there: American Family, CUNA Mutual, MG&E, The Firm, Bendyworks, Arch Virtual, Alliant Energy, WPS Health — just to name a few. UW-Madison had spokespeople there to highlight how its research ties into the many industries represented at the event.

Brandon says attendees enjoyed “great beer, conversations and food, but also saw companies exhibit what they do.”

Arch Virtual brought its virtual reality technology, so that people were able to check out plans for the future Spark Building on East Washington Ave., to “see what the future of Madison looks like,” Brandon said.

And luckily, the weather cooperated for the outdoor event.

“We will definitely do it again,” Brandon said, adding that one improvement would be to better highlight the local food, wine and beer culture in Madison, Dane County and all of southeast Wisconsin.

–By Alex Moe