WMC sets sights on Top 10 for businessWisconsin has come a long way in two years in terms of its attitude toward business.
Wisconsin has come a long way in two years in terms of its attitude toward business.
In that time, it’s gone from the bottom 10 states in terms of its attitude toward business to the top 20.
But there’s still work to do, said Kurt Bauer, director of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest chamber organization.
Bauer was in Superior on Wednesday to talk to business leaders about legislative priorities for the coming session in Wisconsin Legislature.
“From our perspective, the (Nov. 6) elections were kind of a mixed bag,” Bauer said. “We were not terribly pleased with the federal results because I think it means more of the same on the federal policy.”
Among members, Bauer said, it is federal policy, whether taxes or increasing regulations, that has them concerned.
The cost of regulation on business had an estimated price tag of $1.75 trillion in 2008, according to a 2010 study by the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy.
On a state level, however, the Republicans regained control of the Wisconsin Senate during the Nov. 6 election.
“It’s a pro-business majority in both houses of the legislature” and Gov. Scott Walker who survived the recall last summer, Bauer said.
“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for us to build on the successes of the last legislative session, which was truly remarkable from our perspective,” Bauer said. He said more than 50 pieces of pro-business legislation passed in the last session, “probably the biggest progress in over 30 years.”
In addition, he said, the governor and legislature succeeded in stabilizing the state’s budget, taking it from a $3.6 billion deficit to an anticipated $340 million surplus.
“I really do think the fiscal condition of a government — state, local, federal — has an impact on the business climate,” said Bauer.
In addition to stabilizing the state’s budget, which had running deficits for more than a decade, recent legislation has played a role in improving the business climate.
“Some of the things we’ve been able to do to incentivize manufacturing and agriculture through the tax code, which is impressive,” Bauer said. “Our regulatory reform measures have given the governor veto over rules promulgated by the agency, which the executive is supposed to oversee, which makes sense.” He said there was also success in reversing pro-litigation legislation, something that can be costly for business.
But there is still work to do. After all, Wisconsin ranks No. 13 in terms of its business climate in 2012, according to Site Selection magazine. Wisconsin was not included in the magazine’s top 25 rankings in 2010. Forbes Magazine ranked Wisconsin at 43 of 50 in terms of its business environment in 2010, before Walker took office.
“The reforms we’re going to push, we’re hoping are going to put us in the top 10,” Bauer said.
Among the issues the WMC plans to work on is protecting Act 10 reforms, which limited public workers’ collective bargaining rights.
That means the organization is going to lobby voters to return a conservative interpreter of law to the state Supreme Court during the April election, as conservative Justice Peg Roggensack faces re-election.
Bauer said it also means continuing work on mining legislation, something important not only to the northland, where a mine was proposed last year — but to a state that produces more mining equipment than any other, Bauer said.
Workforce is another issue that has to be addressed. In a state with the largest number of per capita manufacturing jobs, an estimated 13,000 manufacturing jobs have gone unfilled because of candidates with advance manufacturing skills are lacking, Bauer said.
It’s an issue that is expected to get worse as an aging manufacturing workforce heads toward retirement.
Bauer said the average factory worker today is about 55-years-old.
“Other states have the same problem, but it’s more pronounced for us,” Bauer said. “The problem is you can’t just sign a piece of legislation and solve it.”
He said the solution is multifaceted — including working with the education system, K-12 and technical colleges, redefining success, convincing young people that manufacturing is a good career opportunity and making people aware of the training needed to go into those careers.
“It’s not dumb, dirty and dangerous,” a perception from the past, Bauer said of today’s manufacturing jobs. “Advance manufacturing has both intellectual and financial rewards … we’ve got to figure out a way to better align the needs of our economy with education of our young people.”