Madison is Becoming a Hole in the Doughnut

On the same night that it was rejecting a $300,000 TIF loan that would have accommodated a major expansion at Danisco USA, the Madison Common Council passed a resolution declaring the pink flamingo as the city's official bird.

Maybe they should have selected the Dodo.

In what has become an alarming pattern, the City of Madison is throwing away jobs — in a recessionary economy, no less — like yesterday's trash. If it isn't rejecting TIF money for major expansions at Danisco and Kraft, it's putting deal-breaking requirements in front of Marcus Corp., sending jobs and cinematic entertainment to Sun Prairie.

Unless policies and mind-sets like this are changed, the city of Madison will become the best thing that ever happened for economic development … in Fitchburg, Middleton, and Waunakee. At this rate, Dane County is going to be known as the doughnut county — no center.

I wouldn't blame city economic development professionals like Michael Gay and Tim Cooley if they took the first low-speed train out of here. After witnessing all this economic shortsightedness, they must be wondering, "Why bother?"

Alder Judy Compton, one of the elected officials in town who actually gets it, noted that Danisco is tailor made for Madison and its biotechnology cluster. The company, based in Copenhagen, Denmark as Danisco A/S, produces enzymes and cultures used in agriculture and food processing. It now has about 90 employees at its facility on Agriculture Drive in Madison (where cultures are made), and would have had more if the city's industrial TIF policy wasn't so ill-conceived.

While the state of Wisconsin's TIF statute has a "but for" clause (but for the TIF, they could not expand), leave it to Madison to take it a step further and include a financial gap in the gauntlet of tests a business apparently has to pass. The policy holds that a financial gap is needed in order to get a loan — a loan that is paid back, mind you, not a grant. In other words, if Danisco was planning a multi-million million expansion in Wisconsin, and it could show that it is $300,000 short, Compton said the city would have approved the loan.

The existing policy, based on the belief that a loan that is to be paid back is somehow corporate welfare, sounds like the same old class warfare Kool-Aid; like other divisive things, it does great damage in the long run.

Compton, meanwhile, is calling for industrial TIF reform, and we sincerely hope that other alders and the Mayor will join her. "Our process is so impeding, and Danisco is an upwardly mobile company for which time of the essence," she said. "They don't have time to play games. They can go anywhere in the country they want to."

The new jobs that the Danisco expansion would have brought here will now go to Rochester, New York. This is why Madison can't afford to serve as a speed bump to its private sector. It must become a supportive partner; that is, if it wants to receive the robust tax revenue that only a thriving local economy can produce.

The city's current industrial TIF policy reminds me of a line from Casablanca, uttered by Claude Rains after a woman is escorted from Rick's cafe: "How extravagant you are Ricky, throwing away women like that. Someday, they may be scarce."

Unless Judy Compton has some reform-minded company on the Madison Common Council, jobs in this city could well become scarce.