Madison vs. Wisconsin

The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce hired former state Secretary of Commerce Zach Brandon as its new president.

Brandon appears to be a man of more than one personality, depending on who interviews him. Start with the Wisconsin State Journal‘s Q&A:

A former business owner, three-term Madison City Council member, state Commerce Department executive and most recently, director of the Wisconsin Angel Network, Brandon, 39, succeeds Jennifer Alexander, who led the Chamber for nearly nine years.

Describing himself as a Democrat, Brandon says he was a fiscal conservative and social liberal on the City Council. He takes the helm of an organization traditionally known, he acknowledges, for its conservative stances. …

A: I want the Chamber to be intrepid, focusing on being innovative, entrepreneurial and identifiable. My goal is to make Madison an innovative and entrepreneurial hub that’s an envy of the world. …

We have lots of collisions in the city when it comes to policy ideas. The Chamber and the business community should be involved; there shouldn’t be an area where we’re afraid to be part of the dialogue. …

Madison is an under-performing city, based on its potential. It’s about the right leaders, the right vision. There’s a significant overhaul in our leadership system now, with a new school superintendent, UW-Madison chancellor, U.S. senator and U.S. representative coming in and a new leader of Thrive (the eight-county regional economic development organization). People are not entrenched; they will be willing to think differently.

But to The Capital Times, Brandon says different things, as shown in its Q&A, or “CT” and “ZB”:

Watching Scott Walker’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010, it’s no secret what one of its key over-arching strategies was.

Run against Madison.

Zach Brandon says that has got to stop.

As the new president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Brandon plans to do all he can to end that wedge issue and work toward growing the entire state economy. …

Zach Brandon: I think everyone realizes that for many years Madison rested on its laurels. We are the seat of government, we’ve got this world-class research university and we were complacent. But with Act 10, people have come to the realization that government jobs are no longer going to be a growth industry. I was saying that back in 2005 and now other people are coming to that realization.

So what Madison needs to do now is think about the assets it has. We have natural beauty, a wonderful quality of life, tremendous civic engagement and a research institution that brings in $1 billion in federal grants each year. We have all the key elements to be a world-class innovation city. …

We need the right kind of research. It can’t be research for research’s sake. It’s a focus on things that can be commercialized. You need the right kind of talent to commercialize the research, you need the kind of investment capital that is interested in drawing on good ideas and finally you need the kind of environment that is conducive to making those things happen. I think we’ve got failings in all of those areas.

One place we really underperform is in exports — both inbound investment and outbound materials. If you look at Madison’s exports as a percentage of GDP (gross domestic product), we underperform just about every other metropolitan area in the country. We are on par with Wausau and that is just inexcusable.

CT: Can the state do anything to help Madison perform better, given that Walker ran on a platform of basically trashing state employees and Madison liberals, saying the first thing he would do as governor is “Stop that boondoggle train to Madison?”

ZB: We have to remind our state leaders of two things: One, Madison is a tremendous economic engine on its own and two, you can’t grow the state economy without Madison. Whatever your job creation goals might be, you need Madison to perform at the top levels. Regardless of your politics, we all have shared goals because Wisconsin doesn’t succeed unless Madison succeeds.

If there is a message I want to give state business leaders or elected officials it’s this: when you are upset with what you think is an activist judge, don’t say an “activist judge from Madison” or a “liberal judge from Madison.” Just say “a liberal judge.” If you are upset about a labor union don’t say “a labor union from Madison.” By using Madison as a descriptor, it really hurts the private sector where in fact the private sector had nothing to do with it.

Ex-Capital Times writer and, shockingly, Madison conservative David Blaska observes:

That really is the problem, isn’t it? The private sector had nothing to do with it. Maybe the private sector should have something to do with it. Instead, business has been AWOL.

Now think of what Zach IS saying: The statewide perception of Madison is a business buzz-kill.

Well, “the private sector had nothing to do with it” because Madison and Dane County government generally doesn’t listen to business. Official Madison believes business profits are greedy, evil, racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, etc. How a small start-up can ever succeed in the People’s Republic of Madison is beyond my comprehension. So if Brandon can change that, well, maybe he should be the next Democratic candidate for governor.

Then again, state government didn’t listen to business in the previous gubernatorial administration either. That would the administration Brandon served as secretary of commerce. That administration helped business so much that, among other things, the Legislature got rid of the Department of Commerce. (Seems that raising taxes by more than $2 billion doesn’t help the economy, but then again it didn’t help state finances either.)

I suspect Brandon is right, though, about official Madison’s complacency. If you have people, you have a business base, and with state government, Dane County government and UW–Madison in the same 77 square miles, that’s a lot of consumers. (Too many, from the perspective of those paying those salaries, but that’s a subject for another day.) High taxes? Micromanaging regulators? Who cares?

I hope Brandon succeeds. (See, Sly? Would someone who hates Madison write that?) There is nothing in the Wisconsin Democratic Party that remotely resembles being “pro-business” today. It’s beyond time for the Democrats to stop their knee-jerk opposition to anyone who has more money than they do and doesn’t get a paycheck from a governmental body.


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