Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
July 2004
Update on Grow Wisconsin Accomplishments

Grow Wisconsin is a comprehensive economic development strategy comprised of more than 100 specific initiatives to increase prosperity in Wisconsin. It has been called the most visionary economic strategy our state has seen in decades.

The initiatives to implement this vision are organized in four categories:

  • Create a competitive business climate
  • Invest in people
  • Invest in Wisconsin businesses
  • Reform regulations and make government responsive

I am pleased to report that we're off to a strong start.

  • Wisconsin had the largest employment growth in the Midwest in the past year - from march 2003 to march 2004
  • Wisconsin has created 45,000 jobs since Jim Doyle became governor
  • The unemployment rate is currently at 5.1 percent, down from 5.8 percent a year ago.
  • Per capita personal income is at a 23-percent year high relative to the US average and grew 2.8 percent in 2003 versus the 2.3-percent national average.
  • Wisconsin was one of a small number of states that did not raise or try to raise taxes.
  • Wisconsin's 7.7-percent export growth rate for 2003 was nearly double the US export growth rate.
  • Construction activity is growing by leaps and bounds. Construction starts in Wisconsin between May 2003 and April 30, 2004 totaled $11 billion. That's the first time building totals have hit that level since 2001.

In April, the number of construction of workers employed in Wisconsin hit 121,600, the highest level ever for that month, and the total grew to 129,100 in May.

During the first ten months of the fiscal year, Wisconsin income tax collections were up 2.8 percent from the comparable period in the last fiscal year.

The governor released Grow Wisconsin last fall, and more than 40 of its initiatives have already been implemented, either through executive or legislative action. Many of these initiatives have languished in the legislature for years, but Gov. Doyle pushed them through with bipartisan cooperation and a consensus that we needed to work together to foster economic growth in Wisconsin. Let's talk about some significant achievements under Grow Wisconsin that encourage economic growth and job creation.

When he took office, Gov. Doyle sent a powerful message to the business community at large by closing a $3.2 billion budget deficit by cutting costs, not by raising taxes.

Also on tax policy, the governor signed single-factor tax legislation to stop penalizing companies for creating jobs. Businesses have been asking for this revision for at least 15 years; Gov. Doyle got it done.

Since its inception 30 years ago, tax incremental financing (TIF) has been an important development tool for communities. Changes were needed to improve its flexibility. Gov. Doyle signed legislation that will improve the ability of TIF districts to support job creation and economic growth at the local level. Communities that have reached their statutory limit on TIF districts will now be able to add new districts under certain circumstances, or increase the amount of time certain TIF districts may operate.

The governor signed assembly bill 2, which expands the lending and investment powers of Wisconsin financial institutions by creating a “universal bank” certification and modernizing credit union regulations. Act 63 also makes Wisconsin state-chartered financial institutions more competitive with their federal counterparts by allowing them to exercise all powers provided under federal regulations. Finally, it protects workers by giving them first priority for the receipt of due wages if a company files for bankruptcy.

Speaking of access to capital, Wisconsin needs to attract more venture capital to help entrepreneurs turn their ideas and inventions into the future's manufacturing powerhouses.

Gov. Doyle signed Act 255 to stimulate venture capital deployment in Wisconsin. Focusing on early and seed stage capital, this landmark legislation provides 25 percent tax credits to angel and other investors in early or seed-stage funds that invest in Wisconsin businesses. It will leverage over $260 million in private sector investment.

Act 255 also creates the technology commercialization program, an initiative outlined in Grow Wisconsin. By providing grants, loans and technical assistance to companies, this program will help researchers and entrepreneurs apply for federal grants, secure private funding, and turn their research into jobs.

Gov. Doyle understands that our state's manufacturing sector is critical to our overall economy, and he is committed to helping it expand in Wisconsin. The governor signed legislation to give Wisconsin manufacturers a sales tax exemption on fuel and electricity use, making it easier for them to compete economically with manufacturers in other states and countries.

The governor provided funding for Wisconsin's manufacturing extension partnerships, which are collaborative efforts of the UW system, Milwaukee School of Engineering, the Wisconsin Technical College system, labor, state and federal government, and the manufacturing community designed to help small and medium-sized manufacturers compete.

Wisconsin has a $20 billion diary industry that must adapt new technologies to remain competitive. The governor created agricultural modernization investment tax credits to help dairy farmers modernize. The legislation provides a tax credit of up to $50,000 for Wisconsin dairy farmers, so they can upgrade their facilities and equipment in an effort to remain competitive.

For years, businesses have expressed their concerns about Wisconsin's regulatory climate. What they've told Gov. Doyle is that they understand our need to protect the natural environment. What they can't live with is costly delays. It has been difficult for businesses to get good information on required permits and to get these permits in a timely manner. These delays have cost Wisconsin jobs and business investment.

So Gov. Doyle implemented the most sweeping environmental regulatory reform in the Midwest. He believes that our regulatory system can work better - becoming faster, simpler, and more efficient - while protecting the high environmental standards that have made our state a great place to live. Under the governor's leadership, average approval times for water permits were cut from 110 days to just 34 days. A backlog of 500 air permit applications the governor inherited has been cut in half and will be eliminated by the end of the year.

Small businesses generally have fewer staff resources to identify and comply with regulations. The governor negotiated and signed Act 145, which provides small businesses with a greater voice in the formation of administrative rules that have a direct impact on their day-to-day activities.

To ensure that Wisconsin will have adequate energy to meet present needs and support continued growth, Gov. Doyle signed Senate Bill 300, which streamlines the siting of transmission lines and power plants. The law creates a new, faster review process for transmission projects, improves cooperation between the Department of Natural Resources and the Public Service Commission (PSC) on environmental reviews, and allows the PSC to use a consistent review process for all transmission and gas pipeline projects.

Under Gov. Doyle's leadership, we're working all across the administration to address issues and problems and find creative, workable solutions. We're also establishing strong partnerships so that we can leverage the maximum benefits from state funds.

--Cory L. Nettles, Secretary

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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