Let’s give Parisi some rope and see what he does with it

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County Exec Joe Parisi is suggesting, in these dark budget days, that taxpayers fund a new full-time director of economic development for his Jobs & Prosperity Project – as well as an assistant (which already is funded in the present budget). I agree that we need to add the top position, and to keep the second – and create this new department. Therefore, I hope it passes the Dane County Board’s budget process intact without being whittled down. Why? I’m cautiously optimistic that the man really does mean business. And you know, loyal readers, that I don’t usually pay politicians so high a compliment.

I am in good company in those sentiments, however. Pat Schramm, executive director of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, has this to say about the County Exec’s proposal:

“The scale of what is needed in Dane County is hard to wrap our brains around, but here is an insight that [our] Board has been examining. Our working population is projected to grow by 10% over the next 10 years. This is adding a lot of jobs to match our growth. As of the 2010 Census, there are 50,956 people in Dane County over 18 years of age [who] are poor. This means that they have incomes at or below the poverty level (for families of 4 people, this is approx $22,000). If you do the math, you quickly understand that at least 50% of these people are working poor. We need good paying jobs in Dane County. Also, at least two of our contiguous counties have a significant percent of their residents commuting into Dane County every day for jobs (Columbia County – 36% or 10,965 people; Sauk County – 20% or 6,047 people). We are part of a large workforce watershed. It is critical to us that we have a Dane County Economic Development Partner who can also work across county lines.

“We are overdue for Dane County to put in place resources dedicated to Economic Development. The Workforce Development Board daily works very hard to support the development of a skilled workforce. Our jobs would become a little easier if Dane County has a One Stop Economic Develop shop. We hope that Dane County will seize the moment to dedicate new resources to build a strong economic development office that can partner with us to build our economic future.”

As a business manager, I also believe we need a partner to work across county lines, and to be an independent voice with the county exec’s ear. And I think one thing they might first address are the existing strangleholds in Dane County that actually prevent businesses from locating or springing up here.

Recently I interviewed a golf course owner who sited one business in two counties, as it shared two geographical boundaries. It took Mark Renner three weeks to conclude his permitting in Green County and almost three years in Dane County – though he and his partners were operating with a limited pool of capital. And yes, the proposed use was well within the legal framework of what was permitted in our county. There were no red flags, he assures, and the project eventually was approved. EVENTUALLY and at GREAT COST.

Renner feels there has been no significant change in process since then that would impact his proposal differently today, and he is clear that he would not locate another business in Dane County. “Dane County very nearly killed my business,” he said, and not without irritation and exasperation still evident in his voice.

My opinion is that we have got to have a business-savvy person working in Dane County government with the mission to truly assist and help companies get around the hurdles that other Dane County entities create, before we can create jobs and prosper. This needs to be a priority, not a tag-on secondary mission to other existing programs. And the results need to be measurable and traceable – and REAL.

What we do not need is empty rhetoric in which the county exec, like the governor, takes personal and professional credit for every job that, in actuality, small business creates today in spite of the government’s changing rules, new hidden taxes (regulations) and its posture, at times, like downright competition to free market private enterprise.

So I say, let’s give Joe Parisi some rope his first year in office. He’ll either hitch it to a higher branch to help pull us all up in this county a bit, or he can use it to, well, you know, hang his political career. Let’s keep our eyes on this project and hold him accountable – that’s what he’s asking for, and I say we should wholeheartedly give it to him. We’ll soon know (based on who he hires and how he constructs this office) where he stands on true economic development. That’s if the board gives him the nod.

We won’t know if he is well intentioned if the proposal is cut back or reshaped, so I urge the County Board to take it on good faith that the right person was elected by the good people of this county in support of his vision for the county. If so, I hope it lets him do his job as he sees fit the first time around by passing and funding that particular proposal – intact and as presented.

Then let’s you and I pay close attention to Joe Parisi’s new department – and give both the county exec and his new director and the assistant all the support and insights we can muster, too – in hopes that he really can support us in creating a couple jobs next year. What have we got to lose?

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