Wiley Annoyed with IB Data

John Wiley, UW-Madison Chancellor Emeritus, sent this response to IB’s April issue:

Regarding your April roundup of the "Top 100 Employers in Dane County": The UW Hospital and Clinics is listed as our largest local employer, at 4,383 full-time employees. Until a few years ago, when UWHC was partially spun out as a "public authority," they were a formal part of UW-Madison and, I suppose, would not have been listed at all. So they have jumped from invisibility to being the top employer in Dane County as a consequence of reorganization, independently of any change(s) in employment.

The remainder of UW-Madison (minus UWHC), however, has 16,507 employees today, dwarfing UWHC and, in fact, roughly equaling the employment of your top five companies added together.

I realize your list comes with a caveat that you did not include "government or state workers or contracted or independent agents." I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it is apparently the basis on which UW-Madison is excluded from your roundup.

Maybe it means you are tabulating only "taxable, for-profit" employers. But, then, why do you include all the nonprofit, tax-exempt health care providers, co-ops, and hospitals? If you are intending to exclude employment based directly on tax revenues, then why do you not exclude any such revenues from all the employers listed?

If Northrup aviation were a Dane County company, I imagine you would be proud to list them as a local employer, despite the fact that their revenues are almost entirely federal (tax) funds.

Of UW-Madison’s 16,507 employees, 8,688, or 52.6%, are paid from sources other than the state (tax revenues) or the students (tuition revenues). These employees are just as employed as anyone else, and are paid from entrepreneurial revenues: Gifts, grants, and endowment income (3,225 FTE, or 19.5% of our employees); federal (3,089 FTE, or 18.7% of our employees); and program revenues (2,375 FTE , or 14.4% of our employees).

Counting only the 8,688 "entrepreneurially employed" FTEs, UW-Madison would be #1 on your list by a factor of 2.4. If you want to exclude the federally-funded employees (and I don’t see why you would want to do that), the remaining 5,600 would still place UW-Madison #1 by a factor of 1.5.

My point is: Even if you insist on thinking of UW-Madison as "just part of a state agency," it is by far the largest employer in Dane County, even after excluding the "state agency" part(s) of its revenues. It is also the only employer in Dane County directly responsible for having created more than 300 local for-profit companies.

I don’t see how it is possible to present a balanced view of employment in Dane County without acknowledging this reality.

The short answer is that we have to limit our lists to specific criteria, which we did. The longer answer is that I find it interesting that when people credit the economic stability and "insulation" that Madison has shown over the years, attributing it to the university and state government and forgetting the private sector’s role in that, I’ve been pretty steamed, too.