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Spheres of influence: 2015 most influential people in Greater Madison

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From the pages of In Business magazine.

A dominant theme among this year’s Most Influential honorees is crisis management. From Police Chief Mike Koval to District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, area leaders had a great deal to contend with and more than a few anxious moments.

Fortunately, not every member of the 2015 Most Influential roster had an uncomfortable spotlight shining on them. Nevertheless, they share a unique trait: Each of them offered something significant during the past year.

A number of Most Influential nominees have had a significant impact in our community for a long time, but to be considered most influential this year, we crudely asked: What have you done for us lately?

We thank all those who came forward with nominations for 2015. For next year, additional nominations will be accepted via email at With that, here is our second annual look at the Most Influential people in greater Madison.

Barry Alvarez: Reigning Legend

It’s hard to explain to young Badger fans just how low the UW football program had sunk by 1989, but envision a half-empty Camp Randall Stadium, the humiliation of weekly beat downs, and an excuse-making coach who was in over his head.

When Barry Alvarez was plucked from Lou Holtz’s Notre Dame staff to fix things, he brought a winning pedigree and began what is now a 25-year run of quality that he’s extended as UW athletic director. Big Ten championships, Rose Bowls, Final Fours, Heisman Trophy winners, National Players of the Year, and national Hall of Fame inductions that once seemed impossible are now occasional and realistic expectations.

The UW athletic department’s consistent excellence is sometimes taken for granted, but you could argue that Alvarez’s influence extends well beyond UW athletics. Would Madison have become such a sport-crazed town if Alvarez hadn’t lit the fuse by making Badger Saturdays a can’t-miss event? It’s a debatable point.

You could certainly make a case for former AD Pat Richter, the man who hired Alvarez (and Stu Jackson, Dick Bennett, and Bo Ryan), and you could certainly give a nod to former Chancellor Donna Shalala, who hired Richter, but the first coach they selected had to be a difference-maker. Twenty-five years later, he still is.

Julia Arata-Fratta: Business Believer

Julia Arata-Fratta might have stepped down as president of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County, but not before demonstrating award-winning leadership for an organization credited with growing and advancing the interests of the Latino business community and workforce. The Wisconsin Women of Color Network, Brava Magazine, and the Community Leader awards program have all recognized her work in business development, but that’s only a beginning.

An accounting professional with Wegner CPAs & Consultants, her leadership is also demonstrated as a director on the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce board, a member of the South Central Advisory Team of the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp., a part-time faculty member at Madison College, where she teaches small business courses in accounting and taxation, and as a new board member for Agrace, the community hospice and palliative care agency.

Arata-Fratta understands the needs of the Latino business community and the overall economy. She has called for the establishment of a micro-incubator to support new women-owned businesses, and she has been outspoken in support of comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act.

As a newly elected Fitchburg alder and a member of the Fitchburg Community Economic Development Authority, her economic influence will continue as a municipal leader.

George Austin: Entrepreneurial Enabler

Given his role in advancing the entrepreneurial hub known as StartingBlock Madison, George Austin is hardly resting on past economic development laurels. Based on those past accomplishments, few could blame him if he thought it was time to pass the business development baton to someone else.

Not Austin, who as president of AVA Civic Enterprises now provides services to the owners and sponsors of  various complex development projects. He certainly has plenty of experience with such enterprises, with tenure as president of the Overture Foundation (the private foundation that developed the $210 million Overture Center for the Arts) and his role as project director for the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and the Morgridge Institute for Research at UW–Madison. Austin also spent 15 years as director of planning and development for the City of Madison, influencing projects such as Monona Terrace and the Block 89 redevelopment.

Along with advancing the controversial renovation of State Street’s Block 100, he’s taken on the development of StartingBlock. By putting entrepreneurs in touch with peers, mentors, and investors, the planned East Washington Avenue facility could help address one of Wisconsin’s urgent economic challenges — its comparatively low number of new business starts.

Kurt Bauer: Policy Promoter

As president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), Kurt Bauer is on a legislative roll. The leader of the organization that essentially serves as the state’s chamber of commerce has been knocking a lot of priorities off its legislative bucket list, most notably the transformation of Wisconsin into a right-to-work state.

Whether or not you like WMC, getting such priorities passed begins with persuading, through issue advocacy, enough Wisconsin voters to put like-minded people in the State Capitol. In making the case for right-to-work legislation, Bauer opined that Wisconsin’s transformation from what he called an anti-business state to a pro-business state has been remarkable, but also incomplete.

While Madison progressives would take issue with what the 3,800-member WMC considers “pro-business” or “pro-reform,” the organization convinced a legislative majority and an initially reluctant Gov. Scott Walker that right-to-work is a matter of worker freedom and would improve the state’s business climate.

Under Bauer, who previously served as CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association, WMC has also moved the needle on a range of business-related issues such as regulatory certainty, tax relief, and workforce training.


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