Changes Could Be In Store for the State's Economic Development Corporation

May 22, 2015

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, better known as WEDC, is in the limelight once again. 

State lawmakers in 2011 created the public private agency that replaced the Department of Commerce. Back then, the Walker administration argued that WEDC would be more efficient and create more jobs. However, since its inception the agency has been plagued by problems of job creation and retention and accountability to name a few. On Thursday, the state’s budget committee tackled how to move forward with WEDC.

One of the biggest changes was deciding to remove Gov. Walker as chair. The board is made up of people from the business community and lawmakers. While Democrats maintain Republicans are firing Walker, the GOP denies that claim. Senator Alberta Darling says that Walker asked to be removed because he feels he is more of a distraction.

“He felt that if some of the members on that board feel like the group would be better off if he would not be the chair, I say that’s leadership on his part. He feels that he is a factor that is not contributing to constructive dialogue, and he knows that that chemistry has to be changed. So I give him credit for doing it,” Darling says.  

A current board member is expected to take over the position. That person will have an uphill battle to fight, according to Democratic Representative Gordon Hintz. He says over the past four years WEDC has only created 13,000 jobs.

Though numbers recently released point to around 129,000 jobs—around half of the 250,000 positions Walker promised in his first term.

Hintz says WEDC has given money to companies that have outsourced positions, and in some cases, don’t know what happen with loans that were granted.

“I mean I wish we were debating the best way and how to improve our jobs agency, but I mean you guys, we are talking about how to get our major jobs agency to follow the law. To find out where my constituents tax dollars are. To find out why we keep giving money to organizations who then close and open factories somewhere else,” Hintz says.

While Republicans also admitted they have some pretty serious concerns, none went further than GOP Representative Dean Knudson.

“So, I’ve got a confession to make. Yeah, here it comes…see I’m in the minority on this whole discussion because I’m probably one of the few sitting up here, I really don’t agree with the main mission of WEDC. I never really did,” Knudson says.

Knudson went on to say that he wished he’d never voted in favor of the legislation. He says it’s time to reassess the mission of the organization because he believes it over steps the boundaries of government.

As of right now though, the finance committee did vote to increase oversight of the agency and end the WEDC’s lending program.