Leader wants Evers to keep workforce organization

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Austin Montgomery/Beloit Daily News WEDC President Mark Hogan speaks during the Beloit Rotary Club's weekly meeting at the Beloit Public Library. Hogan touted the state's strong economic growth and made a case for maintaining WEDC after Gov. Scott Walker leaves office.

BELOIT - Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) CEO Mark Hogan said Tuesday he hopes Governor-elect Tony Evers will work to preserve WEDC just a week after Evers publicly announced plans to dissolve the organization.

Hogan addressed the Beloit Rotary Club at the Beloit Public Library Tuesday afternoon, saying WEDC is a valuable asset to the state's strong business climate. The organization was created by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 to replace the state's Department of Commerce. It was created as a public-private partnership to provide funding and workforce development to businesses in the state.

"The things we are doing from a talent attraction and retention standpoint, I think would very much align with what Governor-elect Evers would look to do from a transition standpoint," Hogan said.

Hogan said the public-private partnership provides flexibility that wouldn't otherwise be possible if similar programs were created under the Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

"I think the flexibility we have to design programs, whether its entrepreneurial support programs or the FabLab programs,...What we do is identify a need and make the case internally, where the funds would come from, go to our board, go over guidelines and make the case that this makes sense."

The former business executive pointed to the disaster recovery micro-loan program for flood relief as something he doubted would have been created without WEDC's private roots.

"I don't know how that would have happened from the Department of Commerce," Hogan said. "I just know we were able to do that through WEDC and I don't think that same type of flexibility was occurring."

Staff in the governor-elect's office did not respond to request for comment as of Wednesday morning. Evers told the Wisconsin Journal State Journal on Nov. 21 during a tour of the Sherman Phoenix Center in Milwaukee he would propose to dissolve WEDC after taking office.

Beloit Economic Development Director and Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation Chairman Andrew Janke said it was too early to comment on the budding WEDC debate sparked by Evers. Janke said he would talk about the issue with the GBEDC executive committee and board members in the future.

During his talk in Beloit, Hogan touted the state's strong economic figures, highlighting successes in Rock County.

Hogan ran through some of the WEDC's 600 economic partners, while touting the state's strong GDP of $324 billion in 2017 with the state's workforce of more than 3 million people. He stressed the low unemployment rate of less than 4 percent was a testament to how far the state has come since 2010.

He touted statewide projects like Foxconn, Haribo, Generac and Kwik Trip, while highlighting the estimated 1,500 jobs created in Rock County through various WEDC-funded projects since 2015.

Major projects funded in-part by WEDC in Beloit and Rock County included the $5.5 million Dollar General award in 2016; $4.15 million to Pratt Industries in 2015; $750,000 in 2016 to Toledo Molding & Die and the IPMF expansion in 2016 as part of a $500,000 WEDC award. In 2014, Beloit was awarded $1 million in grant funding for redevelopment of the Ironworks campus, with Janesville seeing $500,000 in funding for community development, according to the presentation given Tuesday.

"Economic development is most effective when it's at the local level," Hogan said.

He said the WEDC "Connect Communities", an expanded program similar to the Main Street program, and community development programs were in place for fostering business growth.

Locally, the Village of Orfordville, City of Milton, City of Edgerton and City of Janesville all qualified for Connect Communities funding since 2013, while Beloit was named a Man Street Program in 1988 of the 33 Main Street programs across Wisconsin.

Through community development efforts including the Main Street and Connect Communities programs, 261 net new businesses have helped created 1,576 jobs worth a total private-public investment of $171.3 million, Hogan told Rotarians.

Hogan said he felt policies including Act 10 were "critically important" to building Wisconsin's strong economic climate.

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