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Forecast: High taxes, impossible regulations, pricey health care
Stateís business climate far from welcoming

January 30, 2008

A number of area business leaders are beginning to openly express their frustration with the latest attempt to promote the region, the "Milwaukee 7." Despite millions of dollars in funding, itís hard to see what M7 has done. This shouldnít be a surprise. M7 is an attempt to market southeastern Wisconsin to national business decision-makers. We donít need marketing. We need to fix our business climate.

The M7, a consortium of government officials and private groups, is a flawed concept. Since the group includes government, it cannot address the fact that government policies are the problem. We have enough inane cheerleading going on. What the Milwaukee region needs is changes in public policy. We are driving businesses out and telling new ones to stay away by raising taxes to obscene levels, regulating businesses to death, imposing impossible environmental restrictions and levying some of the nationís highest health care costs. Until those things are fixed, the business climate is not going to improve.

One of the inane cheerleaders, the publisher of a flimsy collection of press releases called the Small Business Times, recently attacked corporate leaders for their negativism. He even threw in a few shots at me (surprise, surprise). He said we all need to be more positive. Being "positive" isnít going to lower health care costs or property and income taxes. Nor will it drive out the environmental extremists who donít want us to build power plants. It wonít neuter the reflexively anti-business/pro-tax agenda of the Milwaukee Journal nor will it get Jim Doyle to stop trying to tax everything he can find. These are the problems. Fighting them isnít being "negative." It is a sincere attempt to save the regionís economy.

MillerCoors is almost certain to shun Milwaukee, probably locating its corporate headquarters in Dallas. The American Bowling Congress just announced itís leaving. Taxes are a huge factor in both decisions. The people who make up the "Milwaukee 7" are largely the same ones who are driving up taxes and driving away business. More groups, Web sites and marketing campaigns are not the answer nor is mindless boosterism from fake newspapers that only pretend to cover business and economic news. Whatís needed are changes in public policy aimed at welcoming and encouraging businesses, not taxing and harassing them.

* * *

The media is a big part of the problem. Itís to be expected that a big city daily paper would be populated by liberals pushing a big-tax anti-business agenda. But media in the outlying parts of the region, like this paper, ought to be a voice of economic reason. Likewise, the media outlets specifically aimed at the business community ought to lead the fight against the Doyle/Barrett/WEAC/environmental cabal that is overtly hostile to economic progress and biased toward spending government money.

Instead, the weekly Business Journal is run by sport coat liberals, its faux competitor (Small Business Times) is a "see no evil" lightweight and the only business leader given a media forum (John Torinus) is a former newspaper guy overtly hostile to tax-cutting conservatives.

Who then speaks for the over-taxed, over-regulated, over-nagged business owners? Until that question is addressed, look for more jobs to follow the Bowling Congress and Miller out of here.

* * *

This column should not be read solely as gloom and doom. There are many economic success stories in southeastern Wisconsin. The Waukesha and Washington County economies remain strong. Milwaukee-based companies like Manpower, Bucyrus, Ladish, Rockwell Automation and Joy Global are thriving. Privately held firms like S.C. Johnson and Northwestern Mutual are doing very well and Quad/Graphics is hanging in there. The stock of Kohlís may be slumping but the companyís overall long term growth rate is phenomenal. Fiserv and Metavante are dominating the growing financial security industry.

Other firms with significant operations here, like CNH Global and General Electric, are doing very well. The health care giants are on a big run as are the stateís insurance companies. Even businesses in a down cycle like the banks arenít going anywhere.

What isnít happening much is new investment from outside the area. Software and technology businesses donít even think about Milwaukee. Our biotech and drug industry donít exist. These firms are the job producers of the future. There is a reason they show little interest in the state as a whole or the region in particular. No amount of slick ad campaigns, flashy Web sites or cheerleading columns is going to change that.

* * *

Iíd normally use this space to offer my reaction to the proposals Governor Doyle offered in his State of the State address last week. But since Doyle didnít propose anything, I have nothing to react to. When the governor comes up with something, I suspect Iíll have something to say.

(Mark Belling is the host of a daily WISN radio talk show. His column runs Wednesdays in The Freeman.)

 

 


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