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Monday, June 28, 2010

Defense-less no more: Wisconsin firms competing for, and winning, military contracts


By Tom Still
For decades, Wisconsin lagged most of the 50 states when it came to federal defense spending. The lack of a major military base explained Wisconsin’s poor return on its tax dollars – at least, in part – but a dearth of defense-related contracts seemed harder to justify given the state’s manufacturing and research know-how.

That trend appears to be changing, perhaps even dramatically, as Wisconsin firms find themselves fulfilling defense orders ranging from a new class of U.S. Navy warships to mine-resistant vehicles to health preparations for reservists and National Guard troops heading overseas.

Familiar examples include Oshkosh Corp., which has been awarded more than $5 billion in contracts to build specially armored All-Terrain Vehicles for use in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and Logistics Health Inc. in La Crosse, which helps the Department of Defense ensure that soldiers receive necessary physical examinations, vaccinations and more.

Another company moving up rapidly on the defense contract radar screen is Marinette Marine, a firm that could rapidly become the state’s largest military supplier if it wins a Navy contract to build more of its next-generation combat ships.

Word could come as soon as July on whether Marinette Marine, the American arm of Italian-based Fincantieri Marine Group, wins a contract to build 10 “littoral combat ships” for the Navy. These high-speed ships are designed to work in shallow coastal waters but pack all the punch that might be expected of a warship that is nearly 400-feet long and equipped with the latest high-tech systems.

Marinette Marine has already built one such ship, the U.S.S. Freedom, which is operating successfully at sea, and a second ship – the U.S.S. Fort Worth – has reached the halfway point in its construction. Building 10 more ships would take five years, adding more than 1,000 people to Marinette’s payroll and providing jobs for 7,000 other suppliers and vendors.

Eventually the Navy wants about 55 of the ships, which could create 20 years of work at Marinette – should the company receive all the contract awards.

That would make it the largest shipbuilding contract in Wisconsin since World Ward II, when submarines were built in Manitowoc.

Of course, neither the 10-ship contract nor those that might follow are a foregone conclusion. Marinette Marine is competing with General Dynamics and its Australian partner to build a similar design in Mobile, Ala. Both ships appear to meet the Navy’s basic specifications so it will likely come down to cost and a sense that one team or the other can better accomplish the job.

Marinette Marine’s case has been helped by a $49-million package of state incentives, mostly tax credits and training dollars that would help it quickly gear up for the job. The company also enjoys credibility beyond its work on the Freedom and the Fort Worth. It was recently awarded a $193 million contract to build nine more Response Boats-Medium for the U.S. Coast Guard, which has been a recurring customer.

Marinette Marine’s shipyards about 45 miles northeast of Green Bay have been modernized over time and more work is planned to allow LCS construction to take place entirely under roof. The company is well-positioned tap Wisconsin’s supply of manufacturing talent, which can compete favorably with skilled labor in any state.

If Marinette Marine wins the Navy contract, it would continue a decade-long streak of expanded defense spending in Wisconsin. Ten years ago, defense contracts in the state totaled $768 million, according to GovernmentContractsWon.com, which reviews federal figures. That was second to last among seven Midwest states – the other six being Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio. In 2009, the website reported, Wisconsin had $8.05 billion in defense contracts, about $1.4 billion ahead of its nearest Midwest competitor.

There are many reasons why Wisconsin companies have won more contracts, but getting things done on time and on budget is no small part of it.

Marinette Marine and other defense-related contractors are symbolic of Wisconsin’s ability to meet federal needs for goods and services. At a time when all federal dollars must be stretched, state businesses offer Washington an effective and sustainable alternative.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hitting the green: Landing a major golf tournament scores economic payback


By Tom Still
Luring the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els to Wisconsin for a golf tournament may seem like a transitory, made-for-TV event, given the putt-and-run nature of professional golf. But the dollars left behind by the pros, their fans and sponsors can be an economic hole-in-one for states where tournaments are staged.

Last week’s announcement that the 2017 U.S. Open will be held in Kettle Moraine’s Erin Hills Golf Course continues Wisconsin’s run of attracting front-line golf tournaments – and the revenue that follows as certainly as the gallery of fans.

The 92nd PGA Championship will return to Kohler’s Whistling Straits Aug. 9-15, marking the second time one of golf’s top four tournaments has been held on the shores of Lake Michigan. The 86th PGA Championship in 2004 was also held at Whistling Straits, which Golf Digest has named one of “America’s 100 Greatest Courses.”

A study of the economic impact of the 2004 PGA Championship by NorthStar Economics Inc., a Madison-based firm, concluded the tournament brought in more than 300,000 fans and $76 million for Wisconsin’s economy. Of that total, it was estimated that $46 million came from outside Wisconsin.

In July 2007, the U.S. Senior Open Championship, also held at Whistling Straits, drew about 188,000 fans and generated an estimated $20 million for the state economy.

With the surprising (at least, to outsiders) announcement that the 2017 U.S. Open will be held at Erin Hills, Wisconsin has firmly established its claim to being one of golf’s new hotspots. During the next decade, six championship golf events will be held here: this year’s PGA Championship; the 2011 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills; the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in Kohler; the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits; the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills; and the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

There are many reasons why Wisconsin’s tee time on the pro circuit has finally arrived. The state has many challenging, well-designed courses, with Whistling Straits, Erin Hills and Blackwolf Run impressing even the most skeptical players and fans. Wisconsin’s summer climate is more comfortable than many tournament states; it has an established tourism infrastructure that has long attracted golfers of all descriptions and talents; and it has a growing roster of professional and ex-professional golfers who aren’t shy about telling Wisconsin’s story; and two state agencies charged with economic development, Commerce and Tourism, have worked well together.

It probably doesn’t hurt to have a governor who’s an avid golfer, either.

“Hosting the U.S. Open will be an incredible economic opportunity for Wisconsin,” Gov. Jim Doyle said after Erin Hills was selected for the U.S. Open. “In Wisconsin, we have shown that we know how to put on a major golf championship, and we’ve seen the positive economic impacts that come with hosting one through commerce, tourism and worldwide attention.”

Most important is that Wisconsin has determined patrons in Herb Kohler, chairman and CEO of the Kohler Co., Bob Lang, the original owner of Erin Hills; and current Erin Hills owner Andy Ziegler. They insisted on quality at every turn and were tireless ambassadors for the state within the golfing world.

The economic impact of the 2017 U.S. Open could surpass $200 million, according to at least one estimate. That seems like ambitious shot off the tee until the number is compared with an analysis by San Diego State University of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. That economic benefit was estimated at $142 million, so $200 million nearly a decade later may not be out of bounds.

Of course, major golf tournaments can generate their share of controversy, as well. The Kohler Co. came under fire recently for its role in pushing for a new I-43 interchange to handle tournament traffic, although it is paying for half the project’s cost. Some have questioned whether the roads around Erin Hills can handle tournament traffic, and whether there are enough hotel rooms nearby to accommodate visitors. But that’s often the case at major tournaments, with fans staying an hour or more away from the course.

It goes without saying Wisconsin doesn’t want an economy built on golf. Manufacturing, agriculture, technology and other sectors will define the state for decades to come. But if a state known for its cold winters can also attract crowds and cameras while the weather is warm, so much the better.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book review: “The Green Business Guide”


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
by Glenn Bachman c.2009, Career Press $15.99 / $18.95 Canada 287 pages
One night last week, you saw something you’d never noticed before.

You happened to stay after work for an hour for some catch-up and the office cleaning crew came in before you left. You watched, dumbfounded, as they hauled away bag after bag after bag of trash. Paper, discarded cups, empty soda cans, empty printer cartridges, all to the Dumpster.

You’ve been doing all you can at home to be greener. So why can’t you do the same at work? You can and it won’t be easy, but with “The Green Business Guide” by Glenn Bachman, corporate greening is more do-able than ever.

Bachman says there are three trends that affect going green in your business: a global economy defined by “relatively free exchange of goods”, a change in the health of the planet, and a growing world-wide population. Within the next 20 years, it’s projected that there will be 8 billion people on Earth.

One of them – you – could make a difference.

Becoming a green enterprise will take planning, without a doubt. Bachman points out that not every business will need to implement everything in this book. Depending on the size of your corporation, not everything he mentions is practical to do.

To get started, embrace an ecodesign, both in the product you put out and the products you use. Ecodesign is “a meld of art and science that creates ecologically benign and economically viable products and services”, which pretty much sums up what you’re about to do.

Designate a person within your corporation whose responsibility is to make sure your materials procurement strategy is ecologically sound. When shipping your product, know what kind of packing you need and don’t overuse. If you’re thinking about building, be sure your contractor is in agreement about Earth-friendly materials.

Inside your building, make use of settings to avoid running appliances when they’re not needed. Take a hard look at your automotive fleet and the transportation needs of your staff, including all business trips of all lengths. Consider telecommuting. Make a goal of becoming a certified green enterprise.

Looking for a light-hearted, fun way to go green at work? You won’t find it here. “The Green Business Guide” means business, in more ways than one.

There’s no “dumbing down” in this book, and nothing cutesy. Author Glenn Bachman uses technical terms and (gasp!) advanced math-based concepts to help you find the best and most efficient ways to make your corporation greener.

Some of the ideas are new but common-sense (let shareholders know what’s in it for them), some seem to be grumpy (if someone sends you a document, single-sided, call and request that they not do it again), and some feel nit-picky (use only narrow-ruled notebooks). Still, there’s nothing saying you can’t pick and choose your ideas to do what feels right for your business.

If you’re a greenthusiast, a greenback, or a sprout just starting out in business, pick up a copy of “The Green Business Guide”. With the help of this book, you can make a noticeable difference.

-- Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The many faces and flavors of entrepreneurism in Wisconsin


By Tom Still
Ask the average person to describe an “entrepreneur” and it may sound a bit like a white-coated scientist emerging from a laboratory with the promise of a life-saving drug, albeit 10 years and hundreds of millions of dollars away from reality.

In Wisconsin, and especially in Madison and Milwaukee, that description certainly fits one successful class of entrepreneur. Biotech and medical device innovation has helped to put the state on a different economic map.

Across Wisconsin, however, entrepreneurism takes a variety of shapes and forms that involve young and old, city dwellers and rural residents, garage inventors and moms with good ideas, and sectors of the economy that have little or nothing to do with medical technology.

That diversity was on display earlier this month in Milwaukee at the annual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference, where 400 people gathered to hear about trends shaping – and reshaping – the Wisconsin economy.

The seventh annual Governor’s Business Plan Contest boiled down to 12 entrepreneurs who hailed from across Wisconsin and whose business plans reflected advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology as well as life sciences. Those plans included a product that can restore septic systems; a lightweight, portable and user-powered wheelchair; an industrial use for nanotechnology coatings; next-generation optical frames and accessories for children; a web-based system for managing online stores; a new way to deliver cloud-computing services; natural product fungicides that can be used to control plant pathogens and more.

The winner was a Fox Valley company that has turned a new page on an iconic institution – the school yearbook. LIVEyearbook Inc. of Neenah has developed a software-as-a-service platform that can be used by students and schools to produce online yearbooks, with all the controls and revenue models that schools need and the creativity that students want. Think Facebook and digital yearbook.

Contestants in the final round of the contest ranged from 50-something engineers who spent most of their careers inside larger companies, to a mom inspired by her daughter’s reluctance to wear eyeglasses to college entrepreneurs just beginning their journey through business life.

The conference also reflected the fact that entrepreneurial opportunities exist across the full spectrum of businesses in Wisconsin – including some the state is uniquely positioned to address.

One panel discussion focused on entrepreneurial activities surrounding food, where trends that range from sustainability to “buy local” to organic to “slow food” are creating ways for small businesses to provide innovative choices to consumers. Wisconsin is a leading food producing state, and ripe for innovation.

Another discussion dealt with how entrepreneurs can capitalize on the “cleantech” movement, which has attracted a rising percentage of angel and venture capital in the United States, as well as significant research and development money from the federal government. From its natural resources to its R&D laboratories, Wisconsin can find itself at the center of cleantech.

While many Americans may disagree on the merits of the health-care reform bill, there’s no denying it is bringing change to the delivery of health services, information and more. Change usually means opportunity for entrepreneurs, and that was another conference topic.

Social media is a trend that has captured the attention of millions of people seemingly overnight, but which is only beginning to be tapped as a tool for business development. That topic was covered, as well, led by younger entrepreneurs at the vanguard of the technology.

Wisconsin is a state that depends heavily on exports, whether in manufacturing, agriculture or technology, and the conference also explored options for entrepreneurs who want to enter leading foreign markets.

The economy in Wisconsin continues to evolve in ways that are driven by innovation, knowledge, strategic investment and measured risk-taking. Entrepreneurs are helping to lead the way. Some may wear white lab coats, but others may be just as comfortable in the garb of everyday people.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, which produced the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Make your voice heard during Dairy Month


By Russ Feingold
As Dairy Month, June is a time to recognize the hard-working farmers and others in the dairy industry who make such great contributions to Wisconsin’s economy and communities. And this June, as Wisconsin prepares to host an upcoming workshop on competition in the dairy industry put on by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), I’m working to make sure there is plenty of opportunity for public input at the workshop, so dairy farmers, cheese makers and other Wisconsinites have their ideas and voices heard.

Scheduled for June 25th in Madison, this meeting is part of a series of joint DOJ/USDA workshops being held across the country to focus on competition in agriculture. At the first of these workshops in Iowa, public comments were only taken once at the end of the day. At a subsequent workshop in Alabama, opportunities for public comment were increased and better integrated into the program. I’ve recently written to Attorney General Eric Holder and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, both of whom will attend the workshop in Madison, urging them to continue this pattern of inviting more public comment. I am pleased that these two departments have taken my advice and plan to include two periods of public comment at the Madison workshop.

Hearing directly from the public is vital to my work in the Senate, which is why I hold listening sessions in every Wisconsin county every year. Not only have I received great ideas from these exchanges, which I have pursued in Washington, but they are a terrific way to get unfiltered viewpoints of real people and not just interest groups. In fact, dairy farmers have consistently expressed concerns at my listening sessions over the years about the state of competition and areas of potential mischief, like the thinly traded cash cheese market in the dairy industry. I can vouch for the value of listening to and acting on public comments like these, and I am glad that Attorney General Holder and Secretary Vilsack are working to make sure there is ample opportunity for them to be voiced.

During my time in the Senate, I have been a leader in fighting anti-competitive practices in agriculture, particularly in the dairy industry. For example, in response to concerns raised by constituents about lack of competition in the industry, I worked to facilitate a dialogue between the Department of Justice and agriculture competition experts last year.

As I continue to hear from Wisconsin dairy farmers and others in the dairy industry about the many challenges they face each month, I will continue to fight anti-competitive practices in the industry.

-- Feingold, a Democrat, is a U.S. senator from Wisconsin.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

GreenBiz: Wisconsin renewable energy fair is 'largest and longest running'


By Gregg Hoffmann
What started a couple decades ago when a dozen or so believers in renewable energy decided to show what they were doing has grown into the largest and longest running energy fair in the country.

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association will hold its 21st annual Energy Fair, June 18-20, outside Custer. More than 275 exhibitors from all over the world and 200 workshops will be featured at the fair.

“It’s grown a great deal since that first year,” said Doug Stingle, who is in his first year of heading the fair for MREA. “It speaks to the growth of interest in renewable energy and alternative sources and methods. It also speaks to the dedication of those people who have been part of its development.”

Included among those dedicated people who were involved from or near the start are B.J. and Carol Welling, who run a cabinet and carpentry business in the area, Bob and Marquerite Ramlow, who have been involved in thermal solar for decades, Mark Morgan, a designer, and Jim Kerbel, who has been involved in renewables for years. These are just some of the veterans for the fair.

“It started when Home Power Magazine ran an editorial saying that renewable energy was being talked about as the future, but that they knew people were already doing things out there and should hold a fair to show it,” Stingle said. “They did so and it has grown every year.”

The Custer area is a natural since MREA is headquartered there, UW-Stevens Point has been oriented to environmental and renewable issues for years and because many people in the area have been working in the renewable energy area for decades.

“There is somewhat of a tradition here,” Stingle said. “It’s a small area, but has had people who have been doing things in this area for quite some time.”

Topics of workshops over the three days vary from “Eat Year Round From Your Garden” to “Great Green Tax Credits” to advanced renewable energy technology workshops such as “Commissioning Solar Hot Water Systems.

“We have a theme on Friday this year of ‘Local Food Friday’, which will emphasize growing, processing and storing of food locally,” Stingle said. “It is a growing area of interest as people become more concerned about the quality of their food and about costs of transporting it thousands of miles.”

Jeremy Solin, who has worked in the local food movement for several years, will serve as the keynote speaker on Friday.

On Saturday, Bill McKibben, author and activist, will talk about his newest book, “Earth.” In it, he contends that humans have fundamentally changed the planet and puts forth some solutions to problems that have arisen from those changes.

Amanda Little, who has been published widely on the environment, energy and technology, will be the keynote speaker on Sunday. Little is the recipient of the Jane Bagley Lehman Award for excellence in environmental journalism.

On all three days, some practical workshops will be emphasized on green home construction, such as straw bale, cord wood and whole tree.

“This is a great event for somebody wanting to build their own home, or somebody wanting to get into the business,” Stingle said. “It’s an opportunity to meet and talk with some of the leading people in the business.”

Exhibitors are organized in a clean energy car show, education area, a farmers market and in four exhibit halls.

There also is entertainment on all three days. Performers include Patchouli, Baba Ghanooj, Canon Ball, Norm Dombrowski and the Happy Notes, and Galyne.

“Renewsical: A Musical About Renewable Energy” also will debut on Saturday at the fair, Directed by Ed Lemar, Renewsical is an interactive stage performance that uses dancing, music, poetry, puppetry and an LED light show to “teach the technology of energy efficiency, sustainability and renewable energy in order to inspire action toward a healthy economy, cleaner environment and a brighter future.”

MREA received a $3.3 million grant last year from the U.S. Department of Energy for solar installation training. MREA is working with six regional training centers throughout the Midwest to increase capacity for quality solar instruction.

The non-profit organization was one of three entities located in Wisconsin to receive the grants. The cities of Milwaukee and Madison received $600,000 and $370,000 each.

MREA has more than 3,200 active members, representing 39 states and three foreign counties. They range from students to business people.

The listed “vision” of the MREA is to “provide the highest quality renewable energy education and training experiences available. Our programs and services will respond to evolving energy issues, empower people to make wise lifestyle choices and be accessible to the broadest possible audience. We will share our success with other like-minded organizations, recognizing that we are stronger when we all work together for our common goals.”

The Energy Fair remains a big part of MREA’s vision and program. In recent years, it has drawn more than 20,000 people over its three days.

Tickets are $15 a day or $35 for the weekend. For more information, contact MREA at 715-592-6595 or online at http://www.the-mrea.org.

-- Hoffmann has written many columns and features for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com over the years. He will write the GreenBiz column monthly.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Revival of Wisconsin Economic Summits provides timely forum for ideas


By Tom Still
The original Wisconsin Economic Summits served their purpose by fading away.

That’s not to say the four summits that took place between 2000 and 2003 were unsuccessful. In fact, the first two summits identified economic trends and strategies that continue to shape the state. The final two summits felt more like an academic exercise, however, and too few business leaders were on hand to carry the torch forward. As a result, the process ended on more of a whisper than a bang.

The revival of the summits – scheduled under a new format for this summer and fall – will try to pick up that torch as a critical time for Wisconsin’s economy.

With public meetings set for June 29 in Appleton, Aug. 26 in La Crosse and Oct. 5 in Milwaukee, summit organizers are aiming to provide a blueprint for economic growth as well as ideas for improving the effectiveness of state and local government.

One goal of the summit’s bipartisan working group of business, university and labor leaders is to put strong ideas in front of candidates for public office, with the help of economic experts who bring an outside view. A broader purpose is simply to reinvigorate public discussion about what’s working and what is not – and to sound alarms, where appropriate, about the state’s economic future.

The original Wisconsin Economic Summits delivered some lasting messages. They stressed the need to overcome city-to-city or county-to-county rivalries and engage in regional cooperation, something that is happening in Wisconsin through regional economic development groups such as New North, Momentum West and Thrive.

They also underscored the importance of Wisconsin’s ties to two robust metropolitan areas to the south and west – Chicago and the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Some regional cooperation has since emerged along what is now called the “I-Q Corridor,” with the “I” standing for interstate, innovation, intellectual property and investment, and the “Q” suggesting quality of life, workforce, education and more.

The first summits emphasized the need for industry “clusters” to form and work together. That is happening in some important emerging sectors, such as biotechnology, fresh water technology, medical devices, energy storage and information technology, but less so in traditional sectors such as insurance, printing and papermaking.

The 2000-2003 summits also urged the speedier development of a knowledge-based, tech-based economy, which is taking place at varying speeds across Wisconsin. While there are more start-ups companies today, the state still has a long ways to go before its entrepreneurial culture begins to match those evident in other states.

Investing in innovation may well emerge as a theme of the 2010 summits, which begin June 29 with a closer look at Wisconsin’s economy and what can be done to make it stronger. Summit conveners, which include Competitive Wisconsin Inc., the Wisconsin Higher Education Business Roundtable, Wisconsin Way and the Wisconsin Technology Council, hope to draw on best practices in other states to frame ideas that could work in Wisconsin.

For example, a number of states in the Midwest and beyond have seeded pools of capital, which are available to emerging companies across a number of business sectors. While Wisconsin has done a groundbreaking job creating “first-round” capital through its incentives for angel and other early stage investors, the real challenge is finding second-round dollars to move start-up companies to the next level.

One model gaining attention is the Ohio Third Frontier, which is a bonding approach recently renewed by Ohio voters. By a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent, voters in the Buckeye state renewed a $1.4 billion economic development launched in 2002 with another $700 million in commitment. It passed because the program so far has created jobs and companies while attracting private investment and generating strong initial returns on investment.

There are other state models, as well, that may also translate to Wisconsin. The point is less about deciding now on what will work best for Wisconsin, but using a neutral, convening forum such as the Wisconsin Economic Summits to bring the best ideas forward.

If Version 2.0 of the summits accomplishes nothing else in this crucial election year, that would qualify as success.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal, and served as moderator for the 2000-2003 summits. Learn more and register at: www.wiroundtable.org/summit.

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Instead of waiting for jobs to come back, try making your own


By Tom Still
The latest job creation figures from the federal government have confirmed what most economists have been saying all along: The climb back from the recession will be a long one so far as many laid-off workers are concerned.

For many of jobless or under-employed Americans, the answer is not waiting for that old job to reappear – but creating their own jobs by becoming entrepreneurs.

The U.S. Labor Department’s May figures showed that all but 20,000 of the non-farm jobs created last month were temporary government jobs at the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s hardly a reason to break out in a chorus of “Happy days are here again!” as it signals continued weakness in the private sector. As many economists have predicted, it will likely be 2011 – and well beyond in some metropolitan markets such as Milwaukee – before employment totals climb back to pre-recession figures.

Another report released in late May shows that many Americans are refusing to wait for Godot.

The annual “Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity,” issued by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation since the mid-1990s, shows the recession has sparked interest in starting companies. According to the index, a leading indicator of new business creation in the United States, the number of new businesses launched during the recession has increased steadily since 2007.

The index measures the number of start-ups per 100,000 adults on a state-by-state and nationwide basis. In 2009, the 340 out of 100,000 adults who started businesses each month represented a 4 percent increase over 2008, or 27,000 more starts per month than in 2008 and 60,000 more starts per month than in 2007.

Wisconsin, after years of lagging well behind in the Kauffman index, is crawling out of the cellar to the main floor. Wisconsin ranked 28th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in company start-ups, Kauffman reported in its May 20 report. That compares with 44th during 1997 through 1999.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but at least Wisconsin has escaped “bottom 10” territory.

At the June 8-9 Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee, the agenda will focus on giving entrepreneurs the tools they need to succeed. Panel discussions will include “how-to” sessions on financing, sales, cracking foreign markets, using social media and avoiding “killer mistakes,” among other topics.

Why is entrepreneurism so important? Wisconsin needs more start-up companies that can grow into tomorrow’s larger companies, thus regenerating the economy from the bottom up.

The stigma that once came with being an entrepreneur has largely disappeared as investors and governments realize the value of start-up businesses to the economy. In Wisconsin, state government has largely abandoned the “smokestack-chasing” approach to economic development, and wisely so. It has replaced that strategy with targeted marketing and outreach to specific industries and a ground-up approach to creating more homegrown companies.

What is an entrepreneur? Translated from its French roots, the word means “one who undertakes.” The term refers to anyone who undertakes the organization and management of an enterprise involving independence and risk, as well as the opportunity for profit.

Entrepreneurs tend to share common traits. They’re usually driven by a vision of what can be, and that vision may rest on an interlocking set of facts and ideas not yet known or accepted by the marketplace. Entrepreneurs take prudent, not rash, risks. They assess costs, market needs and other factors; they often write business plans to guide them. But they also recognize the plan may be thrown out the window if changing market conditions or other circumstances dictate a new direction. They are decision-makers, but usually make the best decisions when they consult others along the way.

How does society benefit from having entrepreneurs? Simply put, they re-energize the economy. They develop new markets, bring new resources to bear, mobilize capital and introduce new technologies, industries and products. Most important in today’s slumping economy: They create jobs. Small businesses in the United States provide the vast majority of new jobs, and often grow into tomorrow’s major companies.

Entrepreneurism isn’t for everyone, of course. But for those who recognize the old jobs won’t be coming back, building new ones for themselves and others is an option.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, which produces the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference. Visit http://www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com/events/ent_conf to register or learn more, or register at The Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave.

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