Why Isn’t Scott Walker Touting the Biosciences in Wisconsin?
Why isn’t the Governor of Wisconsin doing more to support the Biosciences Industry in Wisconsin? That is the question that leaps to mind in the wake of the Governor’s much publicized promotion of the State’s nascent water technology incubator. The State is contributing $750,000 in taxpayer support to assist start-up companies in the water technology sector, according to a press release from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Scott Walker is quoted as saying, “Support from the state of Wisconsin will help advance the impressive work already completed by the Milwaukee Water Council to new levels of global business development.â€
It is wise to leverage taxpayer dollars as a means of growing high tech jobs in Wisconsin, as opposed to using public dollars to subsidize low wage jobs in the manufacturing or service sectors. The press release from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation explains the rationale behind the State’s investment succinctly: “The WEDC has identified water technology as a target industry of opportunity in the state, and is coordinating state resources to support the industry and putting a priority on advancing water technology exports and foreign investment in Wisconsin water opportunities. ‘WEDC has selected water technology as a target industry worthy of supporting because it has strong industry leadership, a concentration of opportunity exists in Wisconsin and the application of state resources to the industry can make a difference,’ [Paul Jadin, CEO of the WEDC] said.”
However, the State of Wisconsin already has an emerging industry that leads the world in technology and worker expertise, and that is the Biosciences industry (particularly the field of stem cell research). Why isn’t the State targeting this industry for support? The State’s competitive advantage in this field is real, as opposed to hopeful.
A 2010 report from the trade group BioForward found that over 24,000 jobs already have been created by Bioscience businesses in Wisconsin, and that the total economic impact of these employers on the State has exceeded $7 billion. At a time when the current recession has dried up sources of private funding, many of these start-up enterprises would benefit from low interest loans, tax credits, or other sources of WEDC support that would allow Wisconsin to continue as the world leader in this field.
Under former Governor Jim Doyle, the State of Wisconsin did not provide economic support of any significance to the biosciences. However, Governor Doyle was a cheerleader for the industry, and he worked diligently to promote Wisconsin stem cell science in the media. He also worked to pull together private funding for the Morgridge Institute for Research, now open and operating in collaboration with the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery on the University of Wisconsin campus.
Under Governor Walker, the paltry economic support for the bioscience industry has continued. A look at the recipients of 2011 WEDC funding reveals that only 12 out of the hundreds of businesses receiving awards in excess of $5,000 were in the Technology/BioTechnology sector. What has changed since the Doyle Administration is that Governor Walker is not even actively promoting Wisconsin Biosciences companies to the rest of the nation. Why isn’t the Biosciences a “target industry worthy of supporting,” even more so than the water technology sector (which is still more of a potential rather than an actual source of jobs)? Is the WEDC truly committed to sustaining and growing all Wisconsin-based businesses, as the agency’s latest interim report claims, or are some industry sectors less favored than others?
If the Walker Administration really is committed to growing high tech jobs in the State of Wisconsin, then it is difficult to justify Governor Walker’s lack of support for the Biosciences industry.
Ed Fallone is the President of Wisconsin Stem Cell Now Inc.