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Serendipitously, and completely coincidental to the brouhaha going on in Wisconsin?s state capitol, my team and I are 4 months into a pro bono review of what is needed to revive Central Wisconsin's economic and business environment. 

I sympathize with government worker protests against dramatic budget cuts and seeming favoritism in the form of tax breaks for business. On the flip side, Wisconsin?s governor had to do something about its unfriendly business tax & regulatory environment before more businesses and talent flee ? thereby further reducing tax revenue needed to pay the very government workers who are now protesting. 

$64,000 Question: ?Which strategy is more important to Wisconsin's long term viability, and who is to blame for its current fiscal pain?" The citizens of Wisconsin, and of the entire nation for that matter, have no one to blame but ourselves. As a nation we voted in a strongly Republican slate who gave us fair warning of what was to come. Now we are in shock. 

Over at least the past two decades, we stopped making things and exported jobs overseas. We?ve ignored warnings about our failing schools and a dearth of math and science programs for our children. When someone finally showed the backbone to try to clean them up, like former Washington, DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, the teacher?s union pressured its newly elected mayor to remove her. Despite dramatic increases in student performance, Rhee's critics said that her speed ?left them without input on the changes.? Like so many self-interested citizens, they just don?t get it. We are in a national emergency and do not have the luxury of time to do anything other than take swift and decisive action.  

As a nation we are in denial that industries like Wisconsin?s paper mills are never going to come back strong enough to provide the kind of incomes and guaranteed lifelong employment that so many generations have enjoyed. In Central Wisconsin folks are having a tough time imagining their large concrete edifices ever becoming useless.  That ?moment of truth? has arrived. 

In all 50 states we?ve become used to relying on ?Big Brother? i.e. the Federal Government, to bail us out. Thanks to the thieves on Wall Street and the lies that have us mired in a TWO TRILLION DOLLAR (and counting) mess in the Middle East, our treasury cupboard is bare. There is no federal safety net. The current bluster in Congress about $61 Billion in budget cuts, when we are dumping $10 Billion per month into an unwinnable war in the Middle East, is a ?slap in the face? to the intelligence of all Americans. 

With no help from above or outside, each state must grow from within.  That does not mean they don?t reach out for new business. It does mean that we must start making things again. We must create entities that can generate products and services that the world wants.  In the case of Central Wisconsin, a viable replacement for the mills will not come overnight but that does not preclude taking steps to attract new business; retain current businesses; and staunch the exodus of young people and talent. 

My team and I have been focusing on the city of Wisconsin Rapids.  This lovely city knows what to do and has a mayor with the talent and drive to make it happen. What?s been lacking is decisive and tangible action from the citizens themselves.  Instead of waiting for government to do everything they must take action. 

The President and Wisconsin?s Governor Walker have promised to make government more efficient; create a friendlier business tax and regulatory environment; and provide incentives to create jobs that produce competitive goods & services. Only local government and a grassroots movement can convert their rhetoric into gold.  Literally everyone we polled stated that transforming our state and national leader?s good intentions into action can only come from within places like Wisconsin Rapids and its sister municipalities. Relying on the federal government; sources outside your own territory; ?committees? and study groups while ?Rome is burning? is a recipe for continued slow death.

In the case of Wisconsin Rapids, consultation with government and civic economic and business development experts strongly suggests it is entirely possible to create a business incubator and venture capital environment that will make the central region ?cool? and thereby motivate current talent to remain and new talent to migrate to ?God?s country.?  New or expanded products and services created or required by these newly formed companies will spur peripheral job creation. Once you start, all manner of other unforeseen opportunities can present themselves.

The most logical place to start is with a simple incubator process that can give life to and nurture new businesses until they can be handed off to an equally well organized ?angel investor? network, which will, in turn, grow these investments until they can be passed to traditional sources of funding e.g., venture capitalists; banks; strategic allies, acquirers or the public markets.  Every community has these sources but you must give them a reason to step up with money, time and effort.

In this depressed national economy cities, like Wisconsin Rapids, do not have the time to start an entirely new single-purpose industry to replace old. What it can do is grow a number of entrepreneurial options and then nurture the best of them into job and revenue-generating entities. As water seeks its own level so, too, will one or more of these incubated offspring become the next major player for Wisconsin Rapids and the central region.  

One of the beauties of this incubation and venture-oriented concept is that, unlike some corporation or industry that comes in with its own ideas about location, the city can direct development to its abandoned downtown rather than to the outlying strip. As new businesses and talented new people congregate it can encourage development of the city?s river front area for social and residential use.  The Cleveland Flats, and now Cleveland?s new Warehouse District are prime examples of what can be. In fact this could be one more way to gain citizen support for such an initiative. Make downtown ?cool? and people, businesses, and jobs will come from afar. 

It all starts with people.  In Wisconsin Rapid?s case they have the ?horse? they just need to find the ?jockey? in two forms: experienced ?rainmakers? who can bring business to the state; and a strong venture capital team to build the incubator. When these two pieces are in place then prominent citizens can feel confident stepping up with that aforementioned time, money and effort to build the Central Region from within.  

Posted by ..:: GregO ::.. at    02/24/2011   11:49:54
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