What’s Good for Business?

Recently Eau Claire was named one of the top 50 best “Small Places for Business and Careers” in the United States by Forbes magazine.  Eau Claire ranked higher than any other Wisconsin city, followed by Appleton and La Crosse.

What makes a good city for doing business? We hear a lot about ‘jobs’ and ‘taxes’, but what really makes a difference?

Last year in Wisconsin some taxes on business were raised – mostly by closing loopholes that allowed some of the largest corporations to escape state taxes.

This change leveled the playing field for Wisconsin based companies, but the state’s Chamber of Commerce took issue with the changes. They penned opinion columns citing lists ranking Wisconsin among the 10 worst states for business.  They ran full page ads with maps showing the 'best' and 'worst' states with the message ‘we have to turn Wisconsin from black on the map (the 10 worst states) to white’ (the 10 best states).

Yet, looking at where job growth is happening, the results suggest states with higher taxes and a so called “bad” business climate is where the jobs actually are and the living is good.

For example, the black states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, were three of the fastest growing Midwestern states. And, the white state of South Dakota, the “best” state in which to do business, hasn’t grown as fast as its grey neighbor, North Dakota, where the business tax climate falls somewhere in the middle of the rankings.

The factors considered in Eau Claire’s top 50 ranking included job growth and the cost of doing business. Other factors included things government can do right – like helping more students graduate from college, assisting locals in creating cultural opportunities, good schools, parks, low crime - quality of life.

This week two reports from Madison offered good economic news. Legislative Fiscal Bureau director Bob Lang said April tax collections are on target to meet budget projections. Continued positive numbers will make a ‘budget repair bill’ unnecessary. (Something Minnesota legislators can envy Wisconsin.) 

On the job front, the state Department of Workforce Development said Wisconsin added 16,400 jobs in April, reflecting the largest one-month jump in jobs in more than 14 years.

Creating jobs will continue to be a priority.  While no single event caused our national economic downturn, no single program will put Wisconsin on the path to economic growth. 

As a member of the Senate Committee on Economic Development I worked with other legislators to accomplish positive, bipartisan action on a variety of programs that will provide assistance to boost business development. 

Our legislative work fell into three main areas; we support entrepreneurs – the innovative, hard working people that want to start a business; we assist existing businesses in growing, capturing new markets and adding jobs; and we encourage businesses relocating to choose Wisconsin.

Whether starting a new business or growing an existing one, access to capital is a challenge. Our focus was creating ways to improve access to capital. Small businesses and entrepreneurs can use micro-loans to stay in business or help make their idea the next great small business. 

Increasing the tax credits through the Accelerate Wisconsin program will allow ‘angel investors’ and entrepreneurs to get businesses off the ground and growing. Creating a one-stop shop for assistance in working through regulations and permits also makes opening a new business easier.

Collaboration between business and the UW system will help business bring new ideas to market.  Through new Technology Incubators and Emerging Technology Centers, UW campuses around the state can help existing businesses expand.

The new “Green to Gold” revolving loan program will support manufacturers who want to compete in the new ‘Green Economy”. In addition, grant assistance is now available for rehabbing factory space for green energy production.

Creating enterprise zones for favorable tax treatment is one incentive for new businesses to relocate in Wisconsin. Several large companies moved to or expanded operations in Wisconsin using these incentives.

Investing in growing our economy takes time and some results won’t be seen right away.  Legislators will claim credit for a host of new opportunities for business growth. And right they should – improving our economy and getting people back to work ranks as our top priority.