Evers decries GOP’s WEDC changes at economic development summit

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Gov.-elect Tony Evers says one of the most concerning outcomes of this week’s extraordinary session is a bill that would temporarily take away his power to appoint the head of the state’s top economic development agency.

That power over Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation leadership would be restored Sept. 1, after nine months of control by a board led by appointees of GOP legislative leaders.

“If the governor is precluded from being part of that effort, I think that’s a mistake,” Evers said Thursday at the New North Summit in Appleton. “This is about making sure the governor’s office is in a position to marshall the resources of state government around economic development.”

Evers told reporters his staff is in the process of setting up a phone call with Gov. Scott Walker, and he expects to speak with him in the next few days. He’s hoping to convince him not to sign the lame-duck bills into law, but Walker has previously expressed support for some of their provisions.

If his appeal to Walker fails, Evers said “then we go to Plan C.” Though he said litigation is one option, he wouldn’t provide details on other potential avenues to challenge the Republican legislation.

“We will not just lie down and accept this,” he said.

In his speech to summit attendees, the Democratic Gov.-elect framed economic development as a regional effort requiring input and participation from all 72 Wisconsin counties. He pledged his support to the New North region, saying “we must make sure we’re not pitting one part of the state against the others.”

“In my opinion, yes, southeast Wisconsin needs economic development and people thriving, but so does Price County, so does Iron County, so does the New North area,” he said. “Your collaborative efforts really help us get to that point.”

Becky Bartoszek, president and CEO of the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce, said after his speech that she’s excited about his focus on talent. She says the chamber has been reaching out to other organizations and areas to “create new networks to bring that talent to the Fox Cities.”

“As we bring in new jobs, we need people to fill those jobs,” she said. “So it sounds like we’re very much in alignment with the direction that he’s going to move in the future.”

Evers said he will be announcing an economic development advisory council this week, adding he hopes the New North plays a significant role.

Jennifer Stephany is executive director of Appleton Downtown Inc., a nonprofit group promoting events and economic development in the city.

She said Evers’ points on economic development resonated with her, also adding the lame-duck bill regarding his powers over WEDC is “definitely of interest” to her organization.

She said the potential impact of that bill is important to “a lot of the downtown organizations in the state that work closely with WEDC and need their support to keep moving the state forward.”

She added: “We’re watching it carefully.”

In his speech, Evers also touched on an issue discussed often on the campaign trail: transportation.

“The truth of the matter is, we have to find a long-term solution to our transportation problem, and we’re going to need your help to do this,” he said. “In my observation — look at any surveys that survey businesses; one of the most important things they need is access to good highway systems.”

He says that “doesn’t happen cheap,” and called for a sustainable, long-term plan.

“We can’t continue borrowing going forward, and that means we either have to cut places or find revenue sources,” he said. “That’s the bottom line for me.”

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