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Tom Still: In the long run, healthy trade relationships bolster national security

By Tom Still
It's hard to find a Mitt Romney or Barack Obama mask for Halloween that's not made in China.

I discovered that the other day while costume shopping. It was an ironic reminder of the gap between the reality of trade and the election-year rhetoric surrounding it.

While candidates for public office often talk about cracking down on one trade partner or another – often for reasons that seem justified – no one wants to see a trade war erupt if one side or the other pushes too hard. The alignment between American interests and those of its major trading partners, from China to the European Union and beyond, is much closer than most voters might suspect.

That's critical not only for economic impact – exports, imports and foreign direct investment – but for reasons linked to cultural, educational and political exchanges. Collectively, trade and related ties can combine to make real conflicts and wars much less likely. Wisconsin provides some tangible and recent examples.

Exports and foreign direct investment are integral to the Wisconsin economy. Total merchandise exports from the state grew by 11 percent in 2011, from $19.8 billion to $22 billion, with key export categories including machinery, computer and electronic products, food products, transportation equipment and chemicals. Such exports are vital to tens of thousands of jobs in Wisconsin – and a door to other exchanges involving investors, researchers and others.

China is among the state's top five trade partners, a rank that has grown steadily in the past 10 years. That surge has led to initiatives such as last month's visit to Wisconsin by a group of private Chinese investors, organized through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the opening of a UW-Madison Innovation Office in Shanghai, and a dairy science alliance between UW-River Falls and China Agricultural University in Beijing.

That's in addition to hundreds if not thousands of daily contacts between private companies in Wisconsin and their business partners in China, where Wisconsin exports totaled nearly $1.4 billion in 2011. That compares to $320 million in 2001.

China has been a political target because it manipulates the value of its currency to aid its economy, and it is often cited as a source of "economic espionage," meaning pilfering of intellectual property produced by others. Resolving those issues may depend as much on building mutual interests – which China desperately needs – as outright confrontation.

Germany is another leading trade partner, ranking fourth on Wisconsin's export list. In the past month or so, two delegations from Germany have visited the state to deepen economic, cultural and political ties. That has included visits from Wisconsin's sister state of Hessen and, last week, Saxony-Anhalt.

The visit from Saxony-Anhalt was led by Birgitta Wolff, minister of economics and science, who wanted researchers and business leaders from her former East German state to better understand how Wisconsin researchers transfer their discoveries to the marketplace.

Their visit included stops at University Research Park in Madison, UW-Madison, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the BloodCenter of Wisconsin and UW-Milwaukee, as well as meetings with five emerging companies.

Obviously, Germany is a longtime ally and no major tensions exist between that democratic nation and the United States. At the same time, two generations worth of trade and other exchanges since World War II have helped to build a lasting peace and reunify Germany.

In former East German states such as Saxony-Anhalt, the transition from the old Communist economy to a market-based economy has reached the point that interest in entrepreneurship and innovation is finally growing.

Healthy trade relationships can be political stabilizers in a world that already has more than enough flashpoints. While political campaigns can compel candidates in either major party to talk tough on enforcing trade laws, the reality is that fewer barriers and more transparency yield long-term economic results while enhancing U.S. security.

Nations that avoid trade wars can usually avoid shooting wars. That's true no matter which Halloween mask you'll be wearing this election year.

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


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Jeff French: Why private companies shouldn’t be forced to act like public companies

By Jeff French
The diversity of cars, motorcycles, vans, and commercial trucks on the roads reminded me how logical it is that states require different levels of testing to become a licensed driver of different kinds of automobiles. Imagine how much time and energy would be wasted if there was a single standard, meaning that everyone would need to qualify on every vehicle, even if they only wanted to drive a car.

Yet this is exactly the situation in which most privately held companies find themselves when they prepare financial statements. Despite having little interest in raising capital from the public, private companies are generally required to meet the same complex accounting standards as publicly traded companies, as determined by U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Complying with and implementing these complex standards is becoming increasingly expensive. This issue applies to a very wide segment of companies. Private companies account for more than half of the United States’ nonfarm GDP. In Dane county alone, private companies represent 96% of all employers.

Fortunately, relief may be on the horizon. The Board of Trustees of the Financial Accounting Foundation (FAF), which oversees accounting rulemakers, recently voted to establish a new Private Company Council (PCC) that will serve as the voice of millions of privately held companies during the standard-setting process.

This Council will have two principal responsibilities:

* First, to review existing accounting standards to determine whether exceptions or modifications are necessary to address the needs of users of private company financial statements.

* Second, to serve as the primary private company advisory body to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the primary rule-maker, as new standards are developed.

We think it’s a good start. But the PCC has an unprecedented opportunity to do something much bigger. The PCC can help develop the first useful body of knowledge about private companies and how they use financial reporting.

The private company information challenge

For private companies, financial reporting is typically focused on accountability and stewardship, not accessing public capital markets. A 2011 survey of CFOs by Grant Thornton found as much, with two-thirds of private company CFOs responding that their purpose for preparing audited statements was to demonstrate accountability to owners and creditors or to meet other legal requirements. Only 4 percent said that their primary objective was providing information useful for valuing their equity or debt securities.

There are other cultural and operational obstacles in the quest for relevant financial information about private companies. Busy executives at small and mid-sized private firms seldom have the time or resources to involve themselves in the standard-setting process until the final reporting requirements are issued and they prepare to comply. Therefore, feedback from private companies is often focused on practical issues rather than theoretical concerns.

This is where the PCC can bring enormous value. There isn’t a meaningful body of information on this critical job-formation engine because there’s never been an effective process to ask the questions. If the PCC creates a mechanism to gather information on how these companies use financial information, then they can be an effective conduit to ensure that standards consider private company needs and contribute to their growth and prosperity instead of hampering it.

Giving private firms a choice

As a firm with thousands of audit clients, nearly 90 percent of which are private companies, we support companies that want to access the public markets and back better rules to allow them to participate. However, we recognize that many private firms want to stay private. It’s time to create a support structure that gives companies a true range of options to determine their identity and future—public or private.

We welcome the formation of the PCC. But we realize that this is just the beginning of a long journey to shape a better, more efficient reporting structure for private companies. In return, these firms will have more time and resources to invest in the facilities, personnel and innovation needed to ensure growth and long-term success.

-- French is Grant Thornton's Wisconsin audit practice leader. He has served both public and private companies in the manufacturing, distribution, service, and technology industries for 25 years.


Monday, October 15, 2012

GreenBiz: Driftless trout fishing project has good year, despite drought

By Gregg Hoffmann
WESTBY -- A project to enhance trout fishing in the Driftless Area had a good season, despite the summer drought and heat.

“We had a great spring,” said Jeff Hastings, project manager of the Driftless Area Restoration Effort, or DARE. “As for our restoration work, we were able to get a lot of work done, whereas in some high-water years we have been limited.

“During the July and August heat wave, we lost fishermen. But, that sort of fit the pattern you see in the Driftless area. People like to fish early on and then we get another rush in September.”

Trout fishing brings to the Driftless Area an estimated $1.1 billion -- with about $647 million in direct impact to businesses and services in the area. The average in-state resident spends $209.50 per fishing outing; non-residents spent an estimated $391.88.

And, those statistics are based on a 2008 study. It’s likely the numbers have risen since then.

“In places like Vernon County, you can see it on any weekend during the season,” Hastings said. “People are here from Chicago, the Quad Cities, Twin Cities, all over. Many come for three days or more.”

The Driftless Area is a unique 24,000 square mile area encompassing southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin, northeast Iowa, and northwest Illinois boasting 600 spring creeks.

DARE, spearheaded by Trout Unlimited, bills itself as “a geographically focused, locally driven, consensus based effort to protect, restore, and enhance rivers and streams for fish and other aquatic life throughout the Driftless Area.”

The effort is a broad partnership of federal, state, and local government, landowners, academic institutions, conservation organizations, user groups, and other interested parties.

“We try to not overstate our involvement in the effort,” Hastings said. “There are 17 chapters (of Trout Unlimited) active in the Driftless Area. They partner with the DNR in the states that includes parts of the Driftless and many other organizations.

“My job is more of a catalyst. We put on workshops that help groups seek grants and other funding. We will offer technical assistance on some projects. I try to find the missing link for a group that wants to do a project. But, I want to emphasize that this truly is a cooperative effort.”

In recent years, several of the restoration projects have been funded in part through the Farm Bill, working with farmers and other landowners on restoration of banks and reducing runoff.

The efforts also have expanded with publication of a riparian guidebook for the Driftless Area that includes habitat for non-game species such as frogs, turtles, snakes and other animals that contribute to the bio-diversity of a waterway.

Specific projects have included a basin plan for the Bad Axe River, a watershed conservation plan for the Kickapoo River watershed, a basin study on the Lower Chippewa, and projects on the Pecatonica and Sugar rivers in the Wisconsin portion of the Driftless Area.

Those projects are just in Wisconsin. DARE also has played roles in southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa. A list of projects can be found at: http://www.darestoration.com/Projects.html.

The DARE fish habitat partnership formed in late fall 2005 to jointly address the issues such as habitat degradation and loss of coldwater streams essential to good trout fisheries.

Hastings estimates that since that time the area has gained four times the fish-able miles of streams. “Once you are able to route groups to the tools they need, they have taken off on the projects,” he said.

Through these projects, work is provided for experts on restoring the streams, but also for contractors, who often do the restoration work.

“We have some contractors who have become very specialized at creating habitat and restoration work,” Hastings said.

Hastings said the Driftless streams came through the near record heat and drought pretty well, in large part because of gifts from Mother Nature. “We have a pretty good base flow to our streams here,” he said. “We’re not as dependent on runoff as some streams. We’re primarily from cold water springs and other sources.

“As I said before, we also were able to get our restoration work done. So, overall I’d say it was a banner year for the fisheries in the Driftless Area.”

-- Hoffmann, a veteran journalist, writes the GreenBiz feature monthly.


Tom Still: Science can unlock secrets that lie between history's legends and reality

By Tom Still
Everyone knows a bit about the legend of Troy: Boy meets girl, boy steals girl, Greeks dispatch Achilles and a bunch of guys in 1,000 ships to fight the Trojans, 10-year siege ends when the Greeks build a wooden horse, slip inside the gates and kill all of the city's gullible defenders.

That's the legend, slightly abridged from the Homeric epic. Sifting through history for a better grasp on the reality of ancient Troy is the subject of a groundbreaking research project involving researchers at the UW-Madison.

It's an example of how dramatically different research disciplines – in this case, molecular biology, genetics and archaeology – can meld to change how we view history as well as our understanding of human health.

William Aylward, a professor in the UW-Madison Classics Department, is leading one of the world's high-profile "molecular archaeology" projects at the site of ancient Troy on the western coast of modern Turkey. It is combining the field science of archeology with laboratory sciences such as genomics and molecular biology in search of what really happened at Troy some 3,200 years ago – and how people lived and died.

"Right now, the legend and reality of Troy are irreconcilable," said Aylward, who described the project during a recent dinner at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. "By bridging the gaps between the humanities and the sciences, however, that may not always be true."

Ancient Troy was actually nine Troys, each built roughly atop of its processor. The Troy of Homer's Iliad was No. 6 in the pecking order, flourishing from roughly 1700 B.C. to 1200 B.C. It was a "crossroads of civilization," Aylward explained, because it stood on the shores of the Dardanelles, a narrow strait that guards the entrance to the Aegean Sea.

While Aylward has little doubt that a clash took place between Troy's inhabitants and the Mycenaean Greeks, most likely over trade or territory, there's no evidence that Helen, Paris, Achilles, Hector or any other characters from Homer's poems existed. Then again, the Iliad and the Odyssey were the first stories to be written down after Greeks developed an alphabet. That speaks to how culturally important the legend was to Greeks who lived only 400 years later.

So, if something really happened at Bronze Age Troy, what was it? Researchers from UW-Madison, in partnership with a private university in Turkey, are sorting through a site that is 10 times larger than what archaeologists first believed in the late 1800s. The discovery of the much larger Troy footprint was made in the mid-1990s, thanks to modern geo-radar technologies.

The expanded site is yielding human and animal remains that are being subjected to paleo-genomic analysis to help determine everything from migratory patterns to what people ate and drank to what diseases they contracted. The origins of modern diseases, such as tuberculosis, may be traced through remnants of pathogens found in some remains.

At its core, molecular archaeology is the study of ancient molecules. Studies have centered on DNA recovered from human skeletal remains, mummified bodies and organic residues recovered from artifacts such as cooking utensils. This young science has also been used to trace how animals and plants were domesticated and hybridized over time.

While researchers run the risk of contamination of ancient DNA with modern genetic material, it's a science that can amplify bits of genetic code that have been trapped in time. It's also part of a larger trend: Interdisciplinary research, which is responsible for increasing amounts of innovation in science and industry.

"It is critical that we train our future students in disparate fields such as classics and DNA chemistry, because most of the secrets that lay ahead of us lie in the research areas between the usual fields of research, rather than in any one," said Michael Sussman, head of the UW-Madison Biotechnology Center and Aylward's partner in the Troy project.

"The sequence of DNA of ancient bones can provide as much information on how people lived and where they came from as the important texts passed on from generation to generation, such the Illiad and Odyssey," Sussman said. "When you have both, it can be a gold mine for everyone."

The world will likely never know if there was a Helen, a Trojan horse or other staples of Homer's story. Thanks to emerging technologies, however, it may learn a lot more about a long-gone civilization and how it may have affected life today.

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


Monday, October 8, 2012

Thad Nation: Change is coming in the telecommunications industry

By Thad Nation
Flip the switch on the wall, your lights will go on. Turn on to the freeway, and you're using a safe, efficient means to get somewhere. When it starts to get cold, a press of a button or a twist of a dial means that our homes will become comfortably warm.

When the facets of our nation's infrastructure are maintained, most people just rely on them without giving them too much thought. But we have another key infrastructure system in place that will soon reach its technological limit: The means in which we are able to communicate with each other.

While many of us think of infrastructure in terms of roads and railways, now that we are well into an age of information, our communication infrastructure must now evolve.

Often, such progress is not only wanted, but necessary as old technology reaches its absolute usable limit. We've seen this cycle occur throughout our country's history, from the benefits of electricity on rural communities; the replacement of telegraph with telephone; the mechanization that spurred our growth through the Industrial Revolution.

We are rapidly reaching the point where our existing communications technology has reached its full capacity, and change will need to happen. We are moving swiftly away from a reliance on analog communications to broadband-based, IP communication strategies.

A similar situation occurred a few years ago when television broadcasters made the switch from traditional analog to digital broadcasting. The core television broadcasts were essentially the same. What changed, and what necessitated the purchase of a new television, was the technology used to broadcast those channels.

This recent change also provides us with a lesson that we can apply to our communications infrastructure: We must ensure that barriers to this improvement are minimized and that unnecessary or additional regulation is discouraged.

History shows us that implementation of broad technological advancements are what actually jumpstart our nation's economy. Broadband is simply the latest, significant technology transition, and one that needs to happen to propel our economy forward. The time is now for us to be investing in this kind of critical infrastructure. And that is exactly how we need to see it - a communications infrastructure as necessary as roads or bridges or railways.

Broadband infrastructure is a superhighway for American businesses to reach out into the world; a conduit that brings in educational opportunities for communities that currently have limited access; and a lifesaver for expanded medical services through telemedicine applications.

This vital infrastructure is our pathway to prosperity out of the second greatest economic depression in history. This is how we can grow jobs and make our communities stronger and more robust. The key is re-thinking the way we understand what constitutes our vital, national infrastructure, and that new elements such as broadband must be added.

Here in Wisconsin, we have the ability to take the lead on these efforts, to show other states, how it can be done successfully.

It's critical we do everything we can to make sure every corner of Wisconsin is wired. How? Through investment in private infrastructure that will transform the archaic, outdated copper telephone network into a state-of-the art digital network that can create a 21st century economy for the state of Wisconsin.

We have the potential to lead the nation. The Public Service Commission and the LinkWISCONSIN Alliance has been drafting a Wisconsin Broadband Playbook and seeking input on how to best address challenges and opportunities for improving broadband availability, adoption rates and applications.

The Playbook addresses four specific areas: Creating broadband provider incentives to invest in Wisconsin; reducing barriers to broadband investment; leveraging federal and state dollars; and providing education, awareness and personnel to support broadband development our state's communities.

These are strong first steps, and Wired Wisconsin applauds these initiatives. This is not just about ideas, it's about taking the steps to encourage private investment and eliminate any barriers to make necessary broadband infrastructure a reality for our state.

Wisconsin is headed in the right direction, but there is still more to be done. We must encourage all efforts that propel these development efforts forward.

-- Nation is the executive director of Wired Wisconsin.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Tom Still: State marketing campaign gives Wisconsin business a brand of its own

By Tom Still
It's safe to say Wisconsin has a mixed record when it comes to slogans and brands.

Remember "Live like you mean it"? That slogan only lived only about seven months in 2009 after it was introduced by the state's tourism department. Critics said it sounded like something a motivational speaker might chant – and exactly like a slogan once used by a major distillery.

"Escape to Wisconsin" was enduringly popular, even if people sliced and diced the bumper stickers to cobble together their own slogans, off-color or otherwise.

In the mid-1980s, Gov. Anthony Earl asked state residents to submit their ideas for a new Wisconsin brand. The most popular suggestion – "Eat Cheese or Die" – never made it out of the starting blocks with state officials.

For better or worse, most state brands, slogans and logos over time have been driven either by tourism or agriculture, such as the "America's Dairyland" line that anchors the bottom of passenger vehicle license plates. Tourism and farming have been the tail that has wagged the branding dog.

That approach is changing with "In Wisconsin," the marketing initiative launched in late September by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to highlight the advantages of starting, expanding or locating a business in Wisconsin.

"In Wisconsin" is a business brand designed to work at different levels and across all sectors. It conveys a sense of successful companies at home and hints to non-Wisconsin companies why they should consider expanding or locating here. It's also suggests a history of innovation and invention, which has long been the reality of Wisconsin businesses – although not always the perception.

"The reality of our business climate has changed. Now it's time to work on the perception," said Kelly Lietz, WEDC's vice president for marketing.

You might be surprised to learn the primary targets of the campaign are people living, working and running businesses in Wisconsin, not people across the Illinois or Minnesota state lines. It's not a new declaration of "border war" but an attempt to build a sense of pride in Wisconsin businesses among those who are best-prepared to serve as ambassadors – its own citizens.

An advertising schedule that begins this month in business-oriented media in Chicago, Wisconsin and the Twin Cities will use print, online and outdoor media to direct people to online video testimonials from prominent Wisconsin companies – Rockwell Automation, Schneider National, Organic Valley, Trek and Virent Energy. Direct outreach to audiences such as corporate site selection planners is also planned.

"It's not us telling the story. It is Wisconsin companies saying it," Lietz noted. "It's business people talking passionately about the advantages of being here."

The testimonials underscore the diversity of Wisconsin's business landscape, with companies such as Virent engaged in producing next-generation biofuels and biomaterials and Rockwell Automation focused on industrial automation and information. Trek is a global brand in bicycles, Organic Valley is a leading producer of organic dairy products and Schneider National is one of the world's largest logistics companies.

The campaign also underscores the importance and history of entrepreneurism in Wisconsin, where innovative small businesses create most jobs. That's true in Wisconsin as well as nationally.

My own organization, the Wisconsin Technology Council, has used its "I-Q Corridor" brand to highlight the importance of tech-based entrepreneurism. The "I" suggest innovation, invention, intellectual property and investment as well as the interstate strengths of the upper Midwest; the "Q" suggests quality of living, education and workforce.

It remains to be seen if the $500,000 "In Wisconsin" campaign pays off over time – and such marketing initiatives always take time to work – but it's already a departure from the state's spotty branding history. The important business of telling the story of business in Wisconsin is no longer an afterthought.

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


Thursday, October 4, 2012

S. Mark Tyler: Manufacturing careers deserve a fresh look

By S. Mark Tyler
Manufacturing has been transformed in the past 25 years. The perception of manufacturing, unfortunately, has not kept pace with the advances in processes, equipment and training. The workplaces are clean, safe, and are staffed by innovative, highly skilled individuals completing work that is more challenging than ever.

At OEM, each Team Member uses high-tech equipment every day. Increasingly, they participate in building our customer relationships. Our company has added 300 positions in the last three years. Yes, we're hiring. The pipeline of skilled employees is incredibly important to manufacturers, which makes Wisconsin's technical colleges vital partners. About 80 percent of our Team Members have received a technical college education. A high school education alone is no longer enough to ensure success in the new manufacturing environment.

At OEM, the skill and knowledge of our Team Members, the talent they bring to the table, is our competitive advantage. These higher skills of course mean higher pay, and we offer among the highest wages in the area. This business model works, and our success proves it.

Everyone benefits from a skilled workforce and manufacturing is no exception. Perhaps the greatest evidence of this is the fact that every dollar spent in manufacturing injects an additional $1.35 into the economy. Moving forward, the firms, regions, and states with the most highly skilled workforce will be best positioned for economic prosperity.

As we recognize October as Manufacturing Month in Wisconsin, I urge broader consideration of careers in manufacturing. An existing skills gap will only worsen as retirements begin to significantly affect manufacturers across the state. Request a tour of one of your local manufacturing facilities, or contact your local technical college to preview the programs and skills employers seek. Visit the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Foundation or Wisconsin Technical College System web sites to find out more. Solving the workforce paradox by developing a pipeline of skilled manufacturing workers for the future will benefit all of us.

-- Tyler is founder and president of OEM Fabricators, Inc., an award-winning manufacturer in western Wisconsin that celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011. He is also the current president of the Wisconsin Technical College System Board.


Tom Still: Wisconsin attracting investors from abroad – and growing more close to home

By Tom Still
It may not have popped up on your personal calendar, but last week was "U.S.-China Investment Week" in a handful of states that included Wisconsin.

It was also a week in which the state's homegrown angel and early stage investors kept doing what they routinely do, which is check out young companies, invest in the most promising enterprises and help them grow. More on those angels later – but first, let's satisfy your curiosity as to why some wealthy investors from China were kicking tires in Wisconsin.

About 20 Wisconsin companies pitched their business plans Thursday in Milwaukee and Madison to representatives of PiYi Investment Management Co., a private Chinese fund that is scouting for deals in the United States. PiYi includes a venture investment club with some 1,000 or so individuals with an average net worth of $15 million each.

It's a prime example of "foreign direct investment," the notion of investors from abroad putting money into American companies and other holdings. About 55 members of the PiYi group began the week in Texas at an event featuring former President George W. Bush and then split into teams that visited six states, including Wisconsin. In all, PiYi investors heard presentations from 180 companies.

The trip has been months in the making and involved extensive planning by the international team at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which worked with others to select and prepare companies that fit within PiYi's investment parameters.

While it's too early to know for sure what, if any, Wisconsin companies will attract Chinese money, the outlook is promising. PiYi has already committed $27 million to a California biotech company and the firm's managing director for global projects, Jay Riskind, said he expects a handful of deals to come out of the tour.

Also under discussion: PiYi may work with the state of Wisconsin to create a fund that would invest $100 million in the state over time.

It's speculative at this point because money flows to where it finds the most opportunities, and Wisconsin had plenty of competition on the PiYi tour. However, the visit underscores what other investors and observers have been saying about Wisconsin for several years: It is home to a number of growth-ready companies.

In the parlance of investors, Wisconsin is an "inefficient market." That means there are more potential deals here than there is money to finance them. It's not just Wisconsin, either, but the entire Upper Midwest.

A major reason why the Upper Midwest is emerging as an investment hotspot is because homegrown investors, working with young companies, have laid the groundwork. It's a trend that began in Wisconsin about 10 years ago with the formation of the first angel networks.

A survey released early this year showed that 15.9 percent of all angel investments nationally took place in the Upper Midwest, a share exceeded only by tech-rich California. Wisconsin itself is home to more than two-dozen angel networks, funds and other early stage groups, with total investments of more than $61 million in 2011 compared with less than $2 million in 2003. Those investors – who have done much of the heavy lifting with selected companies in life sciences, information technology, advanced manufacturing and other sectors – are why larger investors such as the PiYi group are finding a reason to scout Wisconsin.

Two angel investors who embody that kind of risk-taking with early stage companies spoke last week in Green Bay at a meeting produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council. Charlie Goff of the NEW Capital Fund and David Ward of Angels on the Water, a group based in Oshkosh, talked about their angel funds and what goes into their investment decisions.

"There are a lot of undiscovered entrepreneurs in this region," said Ward, an economist whose credentials include co-founding the Origin Investment Network in La Crosse in 2001. That was a sentiment echoed by Appleton's Goff, who launched his first fund in 2006 and recently began investing out of a second fund that's more than double the size of the first.

Both investors agreed they're reviewing a significant number of deals – Goff has reviewed 70 business plans already this year – and that good companies can be found in a mix of business sectors. What both investors need, however, are more upstream investors who can pick up where they leave off. In other words, major investors who can afford the much larger rounds of investment needed to help emerging companies grow.

That's why it's important that groups such as PiYi, as well as domestic venture funds, are drawn to Wisconsin. They can provide the money and the connections to complete the investment cycle – and help homegrown angels cash out at the right time.

In Wisconsin, all types of investors are needed: Those who help at the outset and those who help small companies get big. And the healthiest approach of all is one that nurtures both.

-- 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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