‘FLY OR DIE’
Lieutenant governor talks economic development in Brookfield

By Ashley Haynes

March 10, 2019

 Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes made a stop in Brookfield Friday at Precast Engineering to hear what local business owners think can contribute to economic development.
Ashley Haynes/Freeman Staff

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 them.

He added that the new administration wants to be as collaborative as possible and be seen as partners who leave the door to business open.

“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 mass transit.


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 Foxconn proponent.

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 more indirectly.

“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.


Education

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.


Republican response

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 Allen.

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.