Apr 26, 2012

Time to live up to region’s potential

Excerpted from Wisconsin State Journal
By Mark Cullen and Gary Wolter

Most people living in this region would agree we have a lot going for us. National rankings repeatedly tell us we’re doing things right when it comes to our quality of life.

But have the high rankings we’ve received for quality of life made us less sensitive, maybe even oblivious, to the low rankings we’ve received for business vitality?

Recent research data suggests the Madison region — Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Rock and Sauk counties — is lagging behind peer regions in business start-ups, job creation, and per-capita income. These economic development activities are important because they provide the tax base to support the schools that educate our children and the government services that help enhance our quality of life.

So the real question is: Why haven’t we been able to leverage our enviable quality of life, highly educated workforce, and world-class research into a more flourishing, competitive economy?

Because we haven’t collectively turned our attention to developing our many advantages while many other regions have been collaboratively planning and investing in economic growth initiatives for years, even decades. Communities such as Des Moines, Iowa, Sioux Falls, S.D., and Lincoln, Neb., have surpassed us in creating jobs and income even though they often have much less to work with than our region. The numbers are embarrassing.

The recession has changed everything, giving us a sense of urgency and the recognition that we are stronger working across municipal boundaries in an increasingly global economy. We have a clear choice: become more aggressive and regional in our approach to economic development or fall further behind in economic competitiveness.

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