Gov. Mandela Barnes made a stop in Brookfield Friday at
Precast Engineering to hear what local business owners
think can contribute to economic development.
BROOKFIELD — In the words of
Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, you either “fly or die.” That’s
why he made a stop at Precast Engineering in Brookfield Friday
afternoon to talk with local business owners and hear their thoughts
on what can help Wisconsin create economic development, yield
sustainable job growth and “fly.”
Barnes says he’s interested in learning what made business owners
and workers decide to stay in the state and make Wisconsin work for
He added that the new administration wants to be as collaborative as
possible and be seen as partners who leave the door to business
“We have to be in the business of helping people to move the state
forward, to move us forward in the 21st century finally,” said
Barnes. “You can’t create the next Silicon Valley. You have to
create the conditions and the environment for that to happen.”
For Tom Palzewicz, owner of local small business ActionCOACH, one of
the most pressing issues for seeing continued job development is
physically getting people to the jobs that are open. Palzewicz says
there are thousands of jobs across Waukesha County that need to be
filled, but people from Milwaukee and neighboring cities can’t get
to work without regional transportation.
“I think that also dovetails into the ability to get young people
here because young people want mass transit,” said Palzewicz.
Barnes says communities are “feeling it” when it comes to a lack of
regional transit options and says a good place to start would be to
at least give authority to regional transit authorities, which allow
counties to come together and create a sales tax that could fund
The Foxconn question
You can’t bring up economic development in the state without
mentioning Foxconn. Barnes says the most frustrating part of the
Foxconn project to him is that business startup growth has lagged
and he believes the money used to bring Foxconn into the state could
have been spread out more and better invested.
But for Tina Chang, chairman and chief executive officer of SysLogic,
Foxconn is still a beacon of hope. She says she is still very much a
Chang said that for the first time, a large company is bringing in
smaller and medium- sized businesses to brainstorm and spur
innovation, which makes her hopeful.
To Barnes’ belief that the money used to bring Foxconn to Wisconsin
could have been spread out more, Chang says it still may be, but
“I know the governor talks about ‘it wasn’t a great deal for the
state,’ but we don’t even know what that looks like yet,” said
Chang. “We have an opportunity to make it a really great opportunity
for the state.”
She added that having the hope of being an “indirect” business to
benefit from Foxconn is particularly meaningful.
With Gov. Tony Evers coming from a public school background,
education is a prominent point for his administration. In relation
to Wisconsin’s workforce, having funding to develop cooperative
programs at technical colleges is an important topic for Scott
Trindl of Mortgage Reports, Inc. He says technical colleges are the
fastest route to get workers to fill the jobs that are available and
agrees with the governor’s desire to give $18 million more in
funding to the technical college system.
“The business I ran for 20 plus years was heavily involved in a co-op
program. We had one of those co-op students that stayed with us for
20 years,” said Trindl.
Barnes says overall, schools that are utilizing public dollars need
to have more accountability. This includes private and charter
schools that are part of the state’s Parental Choice Program and use
public dollars, or voucher schools, he said.
“If we’re funding two different systems, it creates a strain. The
bulk of that strain is on traditional public schools. I think for
three decades, we haven’t gotten the accountability we’re looking
for,” said Barnes, adding there isn’t data that shows a “significant
over performance” in voucher schools.
State Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, agrees with some of what Barnes
said Friday afternoon, but not all of it. When it comes to regional
transit, he and Barnes are on the same track.
“I think the economic marketplace doesn’t stop at 124th Street,”
said Allen. “We need a better way to get workers to jobs so that we
all benefit and we can grow our economy. I would support endeavors
to find ways to create cooperative agreements between Milwaukee
County Transit and Waukesha County Transit.”
As for Foxconn, Allen says the state was smart to seize the
opportunity and there is an economic ripple effect. He says there’s
also an impact on the state’s reputation that comes with Foxconn.
“When opportunities present themselves, you’re either going to take
advantage of them and do your best to make them a reality or you’re
going to be foolish to step over dollars to pick up pennies,” said
In education, Allen says the increase in funding to the technical
college system is the easy approach. He says the state has made
great gains under the Scott Walker administration’s dual enrollment
program and more funding isn’t guaranteed to attract more people to
participate in initiatives like it.
He added that voucher schools are already under extreme scrutiny due
to some of the strictest rules in the country and that the school
choice program has worked, and that’s why Republicans have tried to
raise the cap on the number of students that can use it.