Spheres of influence: 2015 most influential people in Greater Madison
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 email@example.com. 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.
Rebecca Blank: Higher-Education Crusader
When Gov. Scott Walker proposed $300 million in cuts to the University of Wisconsin System, his most outspoken critic was UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank. It’s not just that she was outspoken, it was the impact of her advocacy — particularly the competitive disadvantages created by associated faculty changes — that helped turn public opinion against the governor’s plan.
Even though state lawmakers — no doubt hearing from concerned constituents — watered down the governor’s proposed cuts, disappointing revenue projections meant the legislature could not restore everything. So while 84% of UW–Madison’s projected job cuts would come from attrition (i.e., open jobs that will remain unfilled), 70 existing jobs will be lost in various academic departments.
Blank, however, had made her point about the faculty retention impacts of such a draconian measure at a university that brings in $1 billion annually in federal research grants, thanks largely to the grant-winning ability of its faculty. Meanwhile, Walker, a likely presidential candidate, not only saw his economic development chops take a hit, his standing in public opinion polls eroded to the point where he would be beaten by Hillary Clinton in his home state.
Stephen & Laurel Brown: Faith-Based Philanthropists
Stephen and Laurel Brown are best known for apartment management and architectural design, respectively, but after starting their own charitable foundation, their true legacy is starting to emerge. Stephen (Steve Brown Apartments) and Laurel (Brownhouse Designs) have established a foundation to serve faith-based ministries. The beneficiaries are likely to be people and families in need, the arts, and various community-building initiatives such as Porchlight Inc., the Dane County Humane Society, and American Players Theatre.
Directing a project called Upper | House, located on the second floor of University Square in the heart of the UW–Madison campus, the values-based Stephen and Laurel Brown Foundation will partner with Blackhawk Church on a collegiate ministry, establish a Center for Christian Studies, and continue to own and manage Dottie’s Ranch, a cabin retreat located in a 1,000-acre nature preserve 10 miles south of Madison.
The main initiative, however, is Upper | House, which is too multifaceted to fit one niche. Located in a former food court space, it now helps to nourish people in other ways, and it will be the scene of everything from church retreats to concerts to spiritual exploration.
Angela Byars-Winston: Diversity Mentor
At the moment, UW–Madison professor Angela Byars-Winston is intensely focused on mentor training, but she hasn’t taken her eyes off another passion — diversity. Even though a mounting collection of research demonstrates the organizational and problem-solving value of diverse workforces, old assumptions and low expectations have prevented the so-called STEM disciplines from attracting more women and minorities.
Her research into science, technology, engineering, and math mentoring will play a role in developing the next generation of scholars, and hopefully bring much-needed diversity to the STEM disciplines. With rare exceptions such as the biological life sciences, these fields are dominated by white males — white males who are approaching retirement — and should be replenished with a diverse workforce.
STEM diversity has become a high priority of the federal government, and mentoring is viewed as a key element. Byars-Winston and two colleagues were awarded a four-year, $1.4 million National Institutes of Health grant to study how mentors and the people they mentor define diversity awareness and its importance to the mentoring relationship. By improving the effectiveness of mentoring for minority and female students and employees, the belief is that STEM disciplines such as physics and engineering can finally make diverse progress.
Maurice Cheeks: Innovative Thinker
Maurice Cheeks is the director of the Wisconsin Innovation Network, a program of the Wisconsin Technology Council that serves Wisconsin’s high-tech business sector, but in truth he’s an innovative thinker in all of his endeavors. While he’s immersed in the challenges faced by technology-based businesses in Wisconsin, he’s also a Madison alder, representing District 10 on Madison’s west side, where his innovative thinking has been evident in his support of measures to aid criminal justice reform.
Case in point: His support of a ban-the-box initiative that means people with conviction records would not have to check the box asking about their criminal records on job applications. That’s not to say employers can’t still research people’s backgrounds at some point during the hiring process; rather, it’s to prevent them from using criminal records as an early screening tool. To give people with conviction records a chance to reform, the city of Madison has adopted this policy, and someday it could be required of private employers.
Cheeks is also hard at work on proposals to curb gang violence and strengthen youth mentorship. He’s not only an innovative thinker, he clearly doesn’t believe in just sitting back and watching problems unfold.
Kevin Conroy: Lifesaver
Kevin Conroy earned a spot on this list, for the second consecutive year, before we knew that Exact Sciences’ new headquarters could be part of a $125 million mixed-use development for Judge Doyle Square. The possible boost to an already vibrant downtown is one more thing on his side of the Most Influential ledger. Talk about pouring it on!
The molecular diagnostics company has already had quite a year, as Cologuard, its non-invasive test for the early detection of colon cancer, received Food and Drug Administration approval. The introduction of Cologuard to the market is driving the company’s rapid workforce growth, bringing the need to relocate from its current headquarters on Charmany Drive to a larger facility. If the JDS project is approved by year’s end, hundreds of employees eventually will work in a new 250,000-square-foot facility in downtown Madison.
Conroy, IB’s 2015 Executive of the Year, has also been influential with his outspoken opposition to proposed UW System budget cuts, and he’s also not done exploring business opportunities, as evidenced by Exact Sciences’ new partnership with the MD Anderson Cancer Center to develop blood tests for the early detection of lung cancer.
Barbara Crabb: Constitutional Judge
When U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the state of Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage, the cries of judicial activism rang out. Despite the fact that Crabb applied a constitutional rationale — the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment — as the basis for her ruling, she was accused of promoting her personal political beliefs, not the Constitution.
Yet the clause guarantees equal protection under the law for every citizen, and there are no exceptions for sexual orientation. Yes, it was passed in the 19th century, so it didn’t institute gay marriage as a constitutional right per se, but marriage is governed by law. The authors of the 14th Amendment could not have foreseen what laws would be passed after they helped modify the Constitution, but a fair reading of the Equal Protection Clause would lead anyone to believe that no matter what future laws were passed, they wanted them to be applied equally.
By ignoring charges of social activism and applying constitutional principles, Crabb not only defended the rights of same-sex couples, the UW–Madison Law School graduate illustrated an important point of law — that marriage isn’t just between a man and a woman.
Jack E. Daniels: Disparity Fighter
It hasn’t taken long for Madison College President Jack E. Daniels to shake things up. Taking over as the college’s new president in August of 2013, he’s proposed some dramatic steps the college’s board isn’t quite prepared to support, including the sale of its downtown campus. He’s also asked the board to create a task force to examine plans for a new south-side campus because of that area’s poverty and because of the disparities faced by people of color.
Daniels is keenly aware of such disparities, having been a community college president for more than 15 years, most recently at Los Angeles Southwest College, a school with 8,000 mostly African-American and Latino students. He’s also taken a leadership role in the Our Madison Plan, a blueprint for racial progress developed by five working groups, including an economic development group co-chaired by Daniels, state Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Ray Allen, and Annette Miller, emerging markets and community development director of Madison Gas & Electric.
The group focused on both high unemployment among African-Americans and the scarcity of people of color in many professions. Among its goals are providing career and job training opportunities for African-Americans in high-demand fields.
Richard Davidson: Meditation Maverick
When you’re the most well-respected researcher in your field, and you’re a friend and confidant of the Dalai Lama, and you’ve already been recognized by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world, your influence is hard to question.
Richard Davidson is a renowned neuroscientist and a leading expert and researcher on the impact of meditation and other contemplative practices on the human brain. These practices are gaining more traction as a valued business tool, and Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, located in UW–Madison’s Waisman Center, has been explaining why as a sought-after expert and international speaker.
A New York Times best-selling author and a regular on the media circuit, Davidson has published hundreds of scientific papers, edited 14 books, and preached the gospel of meditation on programs such as Nightline on ABC and Charlie Rose: The Week on PBS.
From his groundbreaking work in studying the impact of emotion on the brain to his method of promoting “human flourishing,” Davidson is designing models for overcoming anxiety disorders. It has brought him honors such as the Mani Bhaumik Award, given by UCLA for advancing the understanding of the brain and the conscious mind in healing.
Judith Faulkner: Epic Entrepreneur
First, Judith Faulkner created a charitable foundation to inherit most of her stock in Epic.
Then, as if creating the Epic Heritage Foundation for the benefit of health care organizations were not enough, she recently made an enduring commitment to Giving Pledge, which welcomed Faulkner and nine other pledge signatories to a list that includes Giving Pledge founders Bill & Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Since Giving Pledge is a global initiative that features people committed to donating the bulk of their wealth to philanthropic causes, the founder and CEO of Epic fits right in.
Not bad for a lady who in 1979 started a medical software company in the basement of her home. An excerpt from her Giving Pledge letter says everything you need to know about Faulkner’s reasoning: “Many years ago, I asked my young children what two things they needed from their parents. They said ‘food and money.’ I told them ‘roots and wings.’ My goal in pledging 99% of my wealth to philanthropy is to help others with roots — food, warmth, shelter, healthcare, education — so they too can have wings.”
Fortunately for greater Madison, the company Faulkner founded, which has grown into Dane County’s largest private-sector employer, continues to have wings of its own.
Otto Gebhardt: High-Rise Developer
If Otto Gebhardt keeps developing at this pace, he might create a new universe. Two years after opening the Constellation in the 700 block of East Washington Avenue, Gebhardt Development is now building a Galaxie in the 800 block and is pursuing plans to develop the south side of the block, as well.
By Thanksgiving, nearby residents should be able to purchase turkey and all the fixings at the Galaxie development’s first installment, a new Festival Foods grocery. The rest of the Galaxie — a mix of multifamily housing, retail, and commercial space —will be ready in the spring of 2016.
Gebhardt’s latest gambit for 140,000 square feet of mixed-use space across East Wash from the Galaxie would become the home of StartingBlock, the proposed entrepreneurial hub where innovation can flourish. It would also be the site of T Presents Madison, an independent concert and event promotion company, plus a 1,500-seat performing venue, professional offices, and educational and retail spaces.
Developing East Wash obviously is personal for Gebhardt, who grew up in the nearby Orton Park neighborhood and went to work at the tender age of 7 in the family business, then known as Gebhardt Realty.
Frank Kaminsky: Unstoppable Tank
Frank Kaminsky is living proof that you don’t have to be a McDonald’s All American to make an impact. By the time this article is published, the identity of Kaminsky’s next team, an NBA team, will be known. Whoever selected him is not only getting a self-made man, they are getting a player who really gets with the program.
In an age of one-and-done college stars, Kaminsky stands tall, all seven feet of him, as the perfect illustration of Coach Bo Ryan’s recruit-and-develop program. Kaminsky could have entered the NBA draft following his breakthrough junior season, but decided to stay for his senior season. In the process, he became college basketball’s “Player of the Year,” leading UW to a second consecutive Final Four, including an appearance in the 2015 National Championship game.
That would have sounded preposterous when “Frank the Tank” enrolled in the fall of 2011. His versatile inside-outside game would blossom during his junior year, and by the time he crumpled on the court following UW’s heartbreaking loss to Duke in the title game, he had led the Badgers to a remarkable 115-34 record, including tournament games, during his collegiate career.
Mike Koval: Mr. “Kool”
It’s a good thing for law and order that Madison Police Chief Mike Koval has uncommon poise under pressure. Koval’s composure was a key element in preventing protests over the tragic March 6 shooting of unarmed Tony Robinson by police officer Matt Kenny from becoming Ferguson-like in their destructive intensity.
When Young, Gifted, and Black Coalition leader Brandi Grayson unleashed a threatening diatribe during a meeting of the Madison City Council, he allowed her and others to vent without responding. His measured response and defense of his department came the next day in an email to Madison alders, whom he chastised for sitting in silence as Grayson promised the city would erupt when the facts came out. Well, the facts came out in subsequent investigations, and while Robinson’s death was no less tragic, the events of that evening showed that Kenny did not fire his gun without cause.
That certainly wasn’t the only occasion in which Koval kept his composure, and his ability to project a calm presence amid community frustration helped prevent more tragic deaths from occurring. It also helped Madison stand out as a community where civility rules over nihilism.
Juan José López: Latino Leader
To say that Juan José López is a leader in the Latino community is an understatement. As director of the bureau of program management and special populations for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, López been instrumental in starting and growing both the Latino Chamber of Commerce and the Latino Professionals Association.
With the Latino Chamber of Commerce, he has developed various partnerships with corporate organizations that have increased the chamber’s ability to help Latinos start their own business ventures. For the Latino Professionals Association, he’s helped build an organization that offers networking opportunities and programming on dressing for success, resume writing, and workplace diversity and inclusion.
López always has been willing to step up and find answers, participating in the City of Madison’s “Disparity Study,” a research effort to assess the magnitude of discrimination against minorities, women, and disadvantaged business enterprises associated with Madison’s public works construction contracts.
He also remains active with a variety of organizations, serving as a board member for the Downtown Rotary, the Rotary Foundation, the Capital Times Kids Fund, and United Migrant Opportunity Services.
John & Tashia Morgridge: Dedicated Donors
In giving the largest single donation ever to the UW–Madison, John and Tashia Morgridge topped even themselves when it comes to philanthropy. The Morgridges’ generosity has already made possible countless endeavors, including the Morgridge Institute for Research and the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars, an endowment that provides grants to low-income students attending a Wisconsin public college or university.
Their latest gift of $100 million was labeled “transformative” by Chancellor Rebecca Blank because it will match other donors who fund an endowed professor, a chair, or a faculty chair. It is the lead gift for UW–Madison’s capital fundraising campaign, and it will help the all-important mission of retaining and recruiting faculty.
Moreover, it demonstrates the value of having UW alums lead in the business world. When UW–Madison touts the number of graduates who lead Fortune 500 companies, John Morgridge, the former CEO and now chairman emeritus of Cisco, is one of the people it’s talking about. Morgridge joined Cisco in 1988, when it was a 4-year-old company with 34 employees. The maker of computer networking equipment now ranks 60th on the Fortune 500, with more than $47 billion in annual sales.
Lynne Myers: Caring Care Provider
Thanks in large measure to the leadership of CEO Lynne Myers, Agrace (formerly Agrace HospiceCare) has achieved far-reaching improvements to health care quality and access, as well as education to providers. However, enhanced end-of-life and palliative-care services throughout Wisconsin’s south central region is only the beginning of her contributions.
Expanding Agrace’s Care for All program — which ensures access to care for everyone in the community, regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status — was Myers’ idea. She accelerated its development after learning of misconceptions that Agrace is an organization only for upper-middle-class whites. Earlier this year, she directed the creation of a $15-million endowment campaign to ensure Agrace’s ability to provide end-of-life care for those who are unable to pay.
Also under her leadership, Agrace set agency-wide goals to increase diversity, not only among the patients it serves but also among employees and volunteers. Toward that end, she championed the organization’s minority certified nursing assistant scholarship program to offer education, employment, and continuing tuition reimbursement to people of color. Myers also commissioned the development of the Agrace Educational Institute, which prepares future hospice and palliative medicine clinicians through hands-on training.
Ismael Ozanne: Nonviolent Disciple
When he made his ruling that Officer Matt Kenny would not face criminal charges in the March 6 shooting death of Tony Robinson, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne was wise to note his mother’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement.
Knowing that similar findings had caused violent unrest and additional loss of life in Ferguson, Mo., and other cities, Ozanne’s statement helped remind people that civil rights leaders achieved historic change through nonviolent protest.
It was extremely important that Ozanne not only spell out the facts in great detail, but also that he express sorrow for the loss of life and acknowledge weaknesses in the justice system, which he did. In handling a tense situation in a “teachable moment” manner, Ozanne, who is Wisconsin’s first black district attorney, also reminded the community that peaceful protest is not only a Constitutional right, it’s also the smartest and most effective way to affect change.
It wasn’t a comfortable situation to be thrust in the national spotlight, but thanks to the way Ozanne handled a difficult situation, Madison is in a much better position to address the racial disparities that tear at its social fabric.
Dan Rashke: Redefining Leadership
Successful companies often thrive — financially and culturally — around a visible, dedicated leader. As CEO of a privately held, third-party administrator of employee benefits programs, Dan Rashke leads the charge on every aspect of Total Administrative Services Corporation’s strategy, mission, and culture.
Rashke, winner of the Brian Howell Excellence in Innovation Award, joined TASC in 1983 as chief executive officer and has been integral to TASC’s transformation to a nationally admired company. He built the firm into a $100 million entity with more than 900 employees, but that’s not really why TASC is so admired. It’s Rashke’s dedication to the broader industry and community that has elevated the company brand and also redefined what it means to be a leader.
The IB Executive Hall of Famer’s work in the community, and his enabling of employees to do the same, sets him apart. Rashke is committed to TASC’s philanthropic policy, where employees are given up to five days a year of paid time off to contribute their time, money, and minds to bettering the community. He also practices what he preaches, serving as the 2015 campaign chair for the United Way of Dane County.
Jack Salzwedel: Corporate Entrepreneur
Internet-enabled, disruptive business models have taken down established companies worldwide, and American Family Insurance has no desire to be the next Eastman Kodak, Borders, or Blockbuster. Its acquisition of smaller online businesses such as Homesite and its foray into venture capital with American Family Ventures are signs that it’s determined to stay one step ahead of Moore’s Law, as well as nurture local entrepreneurship.
The man behind this vision is CEO Jack Salzwedel, who knows full well that old customers have moved on from technology’s corporate casualties. So rather than be disrupted, he’s decided to lead disruptive change, investing roughly $1 billion in the acquisition of online businesses, launching a data science and analytics lab, ramping up American Family Ventures’ investment activities in companies such as Networked Insights and programs such as the gener8tor accelerator, and engaging in innovative partnerships with the likes of Microsoft.
He’s also committed to nurturing small businesses, which is why American Family is backing entrepreneurial thrusts such as StartingBlock Madison. Wisconsin has a difficult time adequately funding its startups, which is a corporate responsibility that Salzwedel and American Family are eager to fulfill.
Paul Soglin: Financial Sage
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has a reputation as one of the shrewdest municipal finance experts serving in government, and while that might not always be the first thing that comes to mind about him, it has served Soglin and Madison well — well enough for him to be re-elected to yet another term (we’ve lost count) as mayor in a landslide victory over alder Scott Resnick.
This is why his financial acumen is so important to the functioning of this city: Madison has a large number of tax-exempt properties in the form of government and university buildings. Upwards of 50% of the properties in the city are off limits in terms of the property tax, which is why it’s vitally important for the city (if it intends to maintain or improve the level of services it provides) to increase the value (and therefore the tax base) of remaining properties through renovation or new construction.
When the value of property increases (i.e., the several-fold increase in the property value of the Constellation site), property tax collections also rise. So as long as Soglin is the mayor, expect to see many more new, modern, and attractive structures dotting Madison’s landscape.
James Tye: Lake Lover
In 2013, local organizations were able to prevent 4,900 pounds of phosphorus from entering local lakes, resulting in an 11% reduction in phosphorus. Among those local organizations was the Clean Lakes Alliance, and given the importance of our lakes to commerce, recreation, and the overall quality of life, it has emerged as one of the most important not-for-profit organizations in the community.
Led by Executive Director James Tye, the Clean Lakes Alliance has an ambitious goal of 50% phosphorous reduction to the lakes by 2025. That would double the number of days that local lakes can be enjoyed and move us further away from a near embarrassment. It wasn’t that long ago that Madison faced a crisis that could have wounded civic pride as a high level of phosphorous in the Yahara Lakes — Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa — led to a large algae bloom that put the lakes on the cusp of being considered for a federal impaired water list.
The upside would have been federal attention and resources; the downside would have been a loss of local control. So while progress is encouraging, Tye knows the Clean Lakes Alliance must continue to steer a clear course.
Gary Wolter: Economic Visionary
When Gary Wolter, chairman and CEO of MGE Energy Inc., announced the organization’s support of StartingBlock, it surprised no one. Under his direction, Madison Gas & Electric, a subsidiary of MGE Energy, has been promoting entrepreneurism, and Wolter views StartingBlock, an entrepreneurial hub planned for the 800 block of East Washington Avenue, as a facility that could change our corner of the world.
That’s essentially what he’s been doing throughout his tenure. From MG&E’s commitment to renewable energy to his work with Thrive (now MadREP, the Madison Region Economic Partnership) and organizations such as the United Way, Wolter has worked to help Madison live up to its potential. The fact that Madison hasn’t always done that is a point of contention with Wolter, a past chairman of Thrive who has encouraged more regional collaboration on the economic development front.
Through the years, you could find Wolter serving on business boards for organizations such as American Transmission Co., Meriter Health Services (now Meriter UnityPoint Health), and University Research Park. In each endeavor, he’s had the interest of the business community and the broader community in mind, and even a controversial proposal to raise fixed utility rates can’t obscure his efforts to advance entrepreneurship, innovation, and competitiveness.
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