GroWis: For an Economy That Works

A 21st Century Jobs Plan

When I speak to hard-working people in towns all across our state, there is nothing I hear more often than the urgent plea for good-paying, family-sustaining jobs — and it’s being ignored. Whether it be unemployed people looking for work, underemployed workers who can’t seem to get connected to jobs with a future, or workers who need a raise so they can earn a wage they can live on, it’s clear that our economy isn’t working for families throughout Wisconsin.

No matter their political beliefs, Wisconsinites routinely tell me that “government isn’t listening.” The quality of life in Wisconsin isn’t getting better for most of the people who live here because a reactive plan to building our economy isn’t working. In the last seven years, households across the state have heard promises of job creation and seen billions in taxpayer dollars fly out the door, only to watch an incompetent executive and a broken political system leave those promises unfulfilled. Instead of earning enough to save for the future or start a business, Wisconsinites are working multiple jobs and still struggling to pay rent. Working parents barely have time to spend with their kids and any kind of vacation in Wisconsin seems out of reach. Many families have given up on Wisconsin altogether, leaving our state for good to seek opportunities elsewhere with higher pay and a better shot at the American Dream.

Throughout my career helping struggling businesses, I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with factory workers while appraising manufacturing companies. It taught me that problems don’t get solved in conference rooms, they get solved on the factory floor – by listening to and considering the viewpoints of the people most familiar with the challenges. I’ve walked Wisconsin’s factory floors for years and listened to the challenges hard-working people face each day.

I believe we can turn our state economy around, but Wisconsinites need more than words. We need a thoughtful jobs plan that creates transformative outcomes for communities statewide.

The GroWis economic development plan focuses on the industry segments that are core strengths of our state. We can transform Wisconsin into a 21st-century economy that leads the world in the industries that sustain life around the planet. Food production and distribution, freshwater science, clean air technology, and renewable energy are all things we do well here. By investing in our strengths we can create new businesses and attract, retain, and grow businesses that offer good-paying, family-sustaining jobs in science, technology, manufacturing, and agriculture.

– Andy Gronik

The BadgerSKILLS Training Program

Training a 21st-Century Workforce

The GroWis plan recognizes that small towns are disappearing all across the state. Our plan proposes a regionalized jobs training program called BadgerSKILLS that will pay families a living wage while they acquire the job skills needed to help grow businesses in their communities and throughout the state.

BadgerSKILLS will address multiple challenges for Wisconsin communities and yield transformative outcomes. These programs will reward the success of public-private partnerships that help transition people to a life free of government assistance by funding programs on the back end with the first-year savings realized. The jobs programs will reflect the real needs of the region and may include:

  • Commercializing the concept of urban farming as a jobs program that transforms lives and communities while also creating healthy food for people living in food deserts;
  • Manufactured housing programs that produce affordable housing for urban revitalization and commercial sales;
  • Manufacturing tiny houses and using them to develop stepping stone communities that help lift families living in poverty and veterans transitioning back into civilian life;
  • Producing architecturally interesting shopping centers from reclaimed shipping containers as a low cost/ low-risk means of spurring interest and economic development in underserved communities;
  • Investing in training centers at world-class research & development campuses to advance vertical-farming and milk-processing technologies at locations like the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory and the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds.
  • Training and apprenticeship programs hosted by labor unions and host businesses statewide.

21st-Century Infrastructure

Connecting people to jobs and products to market

The GroWis plan calls for the development and execution of a 20-year transportation infrastructure plan to spark statewide community and economic development by strategically investing in roads, rail, light rail, buses, airports and ports. Rebuilding our state’s infrastructure while training workers regionally and putting underemployed workers in family-sustaining jobs will re-energize communities left to wither and die on the vine.

Statewide growth also requires that our homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and mobile devices all have reliable access to high-speed broadband Internet and cellular connections. We’ll accomplish this by creating innovative public-private partnerships with technology companies and finding creative ways to leverage existing infrastructure to bring reliable high-speed Internet connections to every corner of the state.

Wisconsin Jobs Department

Creating and connecting Wisconsin Jobs

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has been a disaster, unable to track over $100 million dollars to actual jobs created. Now, WEDC is handing taxpayer dollars out in the billions to Foxconn and others with no promise that Wisconsinites will ever see their money back. It’s time to put the agency intended to help create jobs under the same roof as the agency intended to connect workers to those jobs. The GroWis plan proposes to completely restructure WEDC and the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and merge them into the Wisconsin Jobs Department (WJD). The operations of WJD will be completely transparent to the public. Its mission will be to support the incubation, growth, and retention of family-sustaining Wisconsin jobs and efficiently connect trained workers with the employers who need them. The WJD will:

  • Create local task forces made up of successful and respected local entrepreneurs, bankers, attorneys, accountants, and consultants to encourage the growth of small businesses that will create family-sustaining jobs;
  • Help small business owners better understand the financial solutions available from community banks and institutional lenders to empower growth;
  • Attract the investment capital needed to help Wisconsin’s small businesses grow statewide;
  • Work with the Department of Employee Trust Funds to explore giving public employees the option of voluntarily directing five percent of their contributions into a new fund investing in local business startups;
  • Work with the Department of Employee Trust Funds to explore mirroring the Wisconsin Retirement System for private-sector workers so they can invest in a proven retirement program;
  • Work with the Department of Health Services to explore making BadgerCare an option available to small businesses interested in offering affordable healthcare to their employees;
  • Bring leading researchers at Wisconsin universities together with Wisconsin’s business community to lower the cost of innovation by leveraging existing research facilities and creating opportunities to share in the profits of successful joint ventures;
  • Radically simplify systems intended to connect skilled workers to Wisconsin jobs and institute a 24/7 concierge service to accelerate job placement.

In addition, the GroWis plan proposes to explore decentralizing certain government jobs currently located in Madison and relocating them to areas closer to the issues they are tasked with addressing. Decentralization not only makes good-paying public sector jobs available to more Wisconsinites, it contributes to more informed decision-making and execution and reduced costs while serving as an anchor for rural communities.

Rewarding Successful Job Growth

All family-supporting jobs matter

Family-supporting jobs are important whether they’re created one at a time or hundreds at a time. That’s why the GroWis plan calls for exploring business incentives that reward successful job growth by businesses of all sizes after the jobs are delivered, and tax reforms that help level the playing field so everyone pays their fair share. We should reward cooperative economic development that puts Wisconsin jobs first.

Our plan also proposes to reward successful cooperation by economic development authorities by returning a percentage of the corporate revenue generated to fuel more statewide economic development.

Honoring our Agricultural Heritage

While honoring our environment too

GroWis will protect our environment while creating good-paying jobs by advancing sustainable technologies in Wisconsin. For example, our dairy industry contributes $34 billion to Wisconsin’s economy but there are statewide concerns over the growth of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO’s), freshwater contamination from the spreading of cow manure, the rising cost of agricultural land, and the demise of family farms.

These same challenges can be viewed as opportunities that create jobs in science, technology, manufacturing and agriculture to support Wisconsin families and rebuild rural communities throughout our state. We can support the advancement of technologies that capture methane gas from cow manure and pipe this gas to new regional power plants that generate electricity from this renewable energy for Wisconsin communities. This fuel can also be refined to power farm vehicles, the nitrogen can be used to produce ammonium nitrate fertilizer, and the solids can be used to produce organic fertilizers for resale. In addition, we can create good-paying jobs advancing freshwater technologies to recycle water from manure and return it to fields as clean water to irrigate crops. Innovations like these all help reduce the pressure of land acquisition, making it easier for farms of all sizes to thrive.

GroWis will also explore programs that help small farmers weather the three-year transition to organic certification and the higher margins these products deliver to operators. We will explore creating a statewide exchange to efficiently connect small farms directly to farm-to-plate, farm-to-table and farm-to-institution customers and to the further the processing needed to improve margins and create more good-paying jobs.

There are lots of ways to honor our agricultural heritage and for small, medium, and large farms to compete effectively in the 21st century without spoiling our environment. With fresh leadership, Wisconsin will lead the way.