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Walker Gives WEDC Vote of Confidence in Light of Criticism

Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday presided over an emergency meeting of the board of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, or WEDC.

Walker created the public-private agency early in 2011, to spur job growth. WEDC has been in hot water recently, after an audit revealed the agency consistently did not follow the law in its first year.

A report from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau last week revealed a number of problems with WEDC, including its failure to adequately track loans and its approval of tax breaks for unqualified companies.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, members of WEDC described steps being taken to address the issues, including new procedures for evaluating and tracking loans.

Gov. Walker says he’ll meet with members of the audit bureau in the next two weeks, in an effort to fix problems the audit revealed. He says although WEDC has had missteps, it also is doing good work.

“Obviously there’s frustration in a lot of regards on the one hand, but repeatedly I hear from regional and local economic development specialists and job creators that they like the work that the front line staff at WEDC is doing. They think it’s been very effective and in many ways measurably much more responsive than they got from the Department of Commerce in the past, so there’s some real strength there,” Walker says.

Walker says looking back, he might have done a couple things differently when he created WEDC to replace the Department of Commerce. For instance, he says he could have delayed the agency’s opening by one year, but was afraid a hold up would have caused job creation to suffer.

Meanwhile, the Legislature’s Joint Finance committee plans to move ahead Thursday with a vote on WEDC’s two-year, $75 million budget. A co-chair of the committee says the panel will not approve an increase, until WEDC puts reforms into place.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.