Aug 1, 2013

Cooperation behind MadREP can help all thrive

As appeared in Janesville Gazette
By Neil Johnson

It’s sensible to make Madison the focal point of an economic development group involving Dane and seven surrounding counties.

After all, many business executives around the country are familiar with Madison, what with its world-class university and research facilities.

So it’s logical that Thrive, which has struggled to gain traction since it began in 2007, has renamed itself the Madison Region Economic Partnership.

Critics here in Rock and in Columbia, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson and Sauk counties might have some merit in believing the organization now dubbed MadREP is little more than a bunch of Madisonians trying to lure even more developers to the Capitol city, which remained largely insulated from the recession that hit five years ago. “Call us when something happens,” these critics might suggest.

Paul Jadin, former head of the embattled Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., is MadREP’s president. When Gazette reporter Jim Leute asked him about MadREP success stories, Jadin offered no specifics and acknowledged they’re “meager.”

Maybe its name was part of MadREP’s problem—that moniker didn’t identify or bring recognition to the group and thus didn’t help it.

Local leaders involved with MadREP understand how Madison’s resources—including the UW, the growing University Research Park, the Dane County Regional Airport, and experts in international relations and business development—could benefit outlying counties. These leaders include Rock County Economic Development Manager James Otterstein and three members of MADRep’s Board—BMO Harris Bank’s Janesville President Mary Willmer, Blackhawk Technical College President Tom Eckert and J.P. Cullen & Sons Chairman Mark Cullen.

For years, The Gazette has asked why tax dollars spent by the UW and the research park couldn’t be spread beyond Dane County. It’s a reasonable question.

Sure, UW’s specialists would rather travel 3 miles to the research park than 30 miles to Janesville, but ever-improving technology effectively reduces the distance between Rock and Dane counties. A chart accompanying Leute’s July 21 report showed state statistics indicating that, in 2010, almost 9,000 Rock County residents drove to Dane County for jobs. Among the seven outlying counties, Rock trailed only Columbia in the number of commuters heading to Dane. The expansion of Interstate 90/39 will further ease travel between Dane and Rock counties.

It’s also reasonable to suggest that SHINE Medical Technologies, which hopes to build a Janesville plant to produce medical isotopes, is a prime example of technology based on Madison’s campus that could benefit Rock County.

Willmer, who is co-chairwoman of Rock County 5.0, a public-private economic development group, told Leute that 5.0 recently tapped MadREP’s database to compile information for a company exploring Rock County for a specific type of building.

If that company opens here, it should benefit the entire region. Until Jadin can point to such a victory for MadREP, he’s wise not to ask governments in outlying counties for financial support other than to lend time from employees such as Otterstein. For now, most of MadREP’s funding comes from corporations and Dane County municipalities.

Cooperation, however, offers the best hope for growing our economy in a way that makes our entire region a better place for all to live, work and play.

Read the full article.