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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tom Still: Chancellor choice Blank makes sense for UW-Madison -- and Wisconsin economy

By Tom Still
MADISON – A little more than a year ago, Rebecca Blank visited the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery on the UW-Madison campus to listen to faculty members, entrepreneurs and business leaders. Her topic: What's working and what's not when it comes to the role of the university and the economy?

Blank was visiting at the time as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, an economic emissary of sorts for the Obama administration. When she returns sometime this spring, it will be as the UW-Madison's next and 32nd chancellor.

The meeting stuck in my mind because it was precisely the kind of discussion an economist like Blank might be expected to convene. Attended by 30 or so people, the meeting was built around five questions that will likely define, at least in part, how she views her new role:

* What will be the new areas of business and industry supported by science, technology, engineering and the mathematical sciences (for example, renewable energy and a smart grid), that will drive innovation and job creation in the coming weeks, months and years?

* What will be the critical skills necessary to drive job growth in these and traditional areas in the coming weeks, months and years?

* What roles do the universities, colleges, and technical colleges in Wisconsin play in fostering these critical skills in their undergraduate, masters and PhD students?

* Wisconsin has the highest concentration of manufacturing jobs in the country. What actions are most critical to maintain that base and expand it in the years ahead? Are there innovative ways that the manufacturing sector, colleges, universities and technical colleges can partner in order to best maintain and expand that base?

* How can we leverage public investment with private action to have the most impact on growth in innovations, jobs and the economy?

What mattered most about the conversation is less the proposed answers to those questions – it was a university setting, after all, so everyone seemed to have a different opinion – than how it was structured and carried out. Blank was genuinely engaged, eager to listen and not overly invested in the certainty of her own answers.

That approach will be critical as the UW-Madison confronts new challenges to its mission, which increasingly involves serving as a catalyst for economic growth and workforce development in Wisconsin. Blank's academic credentials – teaching stints at Michigan, Northwestern, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton – will give her standing among the UW-Madison's faculty, staff and students. Her experience in the private sector and Commerce, where she now serves as acting secretary, give her a national and world view that should resonate off campus, as well.

When the red puff of smoke emerged from Bascom Hall on Monday, Blank was in Brazil, co-chairing the 8th annual meeting of the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum with other U.S. and Brazilian officials. During the trip, she talked about Columbia University's new Global Center in Rio de Janeiro as an example of how American higher education can facilitate growth at home and abroad.

Wisconsin is a state that is far more dependent on trade than most of its citizens realize. In 2012, Wisconsin ranked 18th among the 50 states in trade volume with $23.1 billion in total exports – up from $16.7 billion in 2009. Increasingly, foreign investors are also spotting reasons to put money into Wisconsin businesses. Business leaders in Wisconsin should find value in a chancellor who understands those pathways.

Blank was recommended for the chancellor's job by a special committee of the UW Board of Regents. The full board will vote on her recommendation April 5. While some members of the Legislature may question her ties to the Obama White House – and her past misgivings about the value of welfare reform – she is expected to win approval. Gov. Scott Walker's Monday endorsement of her selection is a sign that Walker-appointed Regents won't block her formal hiring.

Some observers wanted the UW-Madison to hire a business CEO, but that wasn't likely to happen because of the internal constituency. Others wanted a pure science and tech chancellor, which speaks to the power of the UW-Madison's $1-billion research budget. As an economist who understands the value of "big science" and the humanities, Becky Blank may walk the fine line needed on campus and beyond.

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


Monday, March 18, 2013

Tom Still: Wisconsin would have plenty of company if it launches an early stage capital fund

By Tom Still
MADISON – The Georgia State Senate voted, 49-3, earlier this month to approve a $100-million venture capital fund to invest alongside private investors in that state’s emerging companies.

In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper – an entrepreneur and former mayor of Denver – announced two weeks ago that his state is forming a $150-million venture capital fund with public seed dollars and a hefty private match.

In Indiana, the Indiana Public Retirement System announced in early March it has selected a private fund manager for its new $150-million venture fund, which will invest in a mix of Indiana companies and other private equity funds. In Ohio and Michigan, the creation of state-leveraged funds has spurred higher venture activity in recent years – with investments exceeding U.S. averages.

Across the nation, at least 34 states have either launched venture capital funds, created investment tax incentives or both to leverage private investments in startups and emerging companies. If the Wisconsin Legislature embraces an early stage capital plan at least as large as what has been proposed by Gov. Scott Walker, it would not be plowing new ground.

Walker earmarked $25 million for an early stage fund in the $67-billion state budget bill, but essentially invited lawmakers to design a larger fund if they can agree on how it should be constructed. Such a fund would likely come with provisions that would require a private match by angel and venture capital groups, define how much should be invested in Wisconsin companies, and build administrative firewalls to prevent political meddling.

The state would be an investor in such a fund, earning returns (or sustaining losses) over time just like the fund’s private investors. But as policymakers in other states have figured out, a privately managed fund seeded with state dollars stands a strong chance of earning financial returns – all the while keeping young companies at home.

“With the exception of Alabama, all our sister states have such funds,” said state Sen. Tim Golden of Valdosta, the main sponsor of the Georgia plan. “Other states, because of these funds, are raiding Georgia companies after we get them established… This bill would help solve that problem once we get it up and running.”

Sound familiar, anyone? Wisconsin startups often get money from friends, family members, founders and angel investors, but they are occasionally lured away by bigger financing rounds.

In Colorado, Hickenlooper said venture capital is a problem for Colorado startups – even though that state’s five-year venture capital average is $595 million per year. That compares with about $75 million per year in Wisconsin.

“When I got elected, we looked at our economic development program. People wanted less red tape and more training, but access to venture capital came up all over the state,” Hickenlooper said.

States such as Georgia, Colorado and Indiana recognize that virtually all job creation is tied to young companies, and that high-growth companies usually need capital. While most of that money comes from private investors, states can play a catalyst role while effectively managing risk through privately managed funds. Not only do states stand to recoup their investments – something other economic development programs rarely do – but they benefit from job growth and the higher tax revenues that come with it.

Some critics disagree, noting that all angel and venture capital is risk capital and therefore not a safe playground for state governments. By investing in a fund that is privately managed, however, government gets the security of co-investors and a market-based approach to selecting investments with the best chance to succeed.

Other states also seem to realize they are competing for a share of the national angel and venture capital “industry.” About $25 billion is invested annually in the United States by venture capital firms, but less than half of 1 percent of that amount is invested in Wisconsin. A state-leveraged fund would help Wisconsin compete for more outside dollars while incubating new funds at home.

Wisconsin’s existing investor tax credit program, used primarily by angel investors, has produced solid returns for investors and helped to create companies and jobs. Other states have taken it to the next level – investing in early stage funds – in an effort to build their economies. Wisconsin should do the same.

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


Friday, March 15, 2013

Kathy Mangold: Like it or not, giant bottle of pop contradicts gym teacher's image

By Kathy Mangold
My son's gym teacher is everything a gym teacher should be: He's friendly, capable and inspiring.

So what's wrong with this picture?

At the end of the school day, when Mr. X heads out of the school and walks through the parking lot, he carries along his super-sized bottle of Mountain Dew.

Sure, it's the end of the day. It's his own time. (And if I were a middle school gym teacher, I'd probably need a beverage even stronger!) But that bottle of soda - within the context of the school hallways and the parking lot - is inconsistent with the role he plays and what he represents.

Like it or not, many professionals are held to a high standard of conduct due to their work. After all, a gym teacher represents health, wellness and athleticism.

Here's what Dr. George Thompson had to say about representation in his book, Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion:

"It is the ability to represent the spirit of your organization, its goods, its goals, its produce, its policies, its philosophy. It is that philosophy that you must fully know and embrace, because every time you open your mouth, you personify it to whomever you're talking to."

Think about what you represent. Is it time for you to stash the soda?

-- Mangold is an award-winning newspaper reporter, magazine editor and freelance writer with degrees in journalism and German from Marquette University. She is a manager at the Vistelar Group, a speaking and training organization focused on the fundamentals of human interaction and their real-world application. Read her full bio.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Tom Still: With technologies that look inside cells, fight against cancer poised to advance

By Tom Still
The war against cancer has many fronts. The fight wages on the prevention side, with long-term campaigns against smoking and other known health hazards, as well as the treatment front, with accelerated advances in diagnostics and therapies.

One of the emerging battlegrounds is location: Bringing cancer-fighting technologies to people regardless of where they live.

That's the thinking behind the creation of the Wisconsin Oncology Network of Imaging Excellence, a project that promises to bring the latest work of the UW-Madison Carbone Cancer Center to a network of treatment centers across Wisconsin.

Thanks to the mapping of the human genome, and the related explosion of knowledge about proteins, enzymes, genetic markers, targeted therapeutics and "personalized medicine," researchers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are making headway across many lines. There won't be a single cure for cancer – but there may be a number of diagnostics and therapies that will help detect cancers sooner and fight them more effectively.

Molecular imaging is one such tool. With the help of private partners such as GE Healthcare, the Carbone Cancer Center has become a national leader in developing next-generation imaging strategies that help medical professionals peer inside the cell itself. Molecular imaging involves visualizing and measuring biological processes at the molecular level – where a cell's components do their work – as well as the level of the cell itself.

Molecular imaging has enormous potential for patient care. It reveals the clinical biology of the disease process and has the potential to personalize a patient's care. For example, rather than assuming that a given cancer patient is the "average" cancer patient with the "average" cancer that will respond to the "average" treatment, molecular imaging helps define the biologic characteristics of the patient, the tumor and the early response to treatment.

The trouble with molecular imaging is that most of the R&D centers for such work are clustered around a relatively few major research universities, and access to such diagnostics – or even clinical trials – can be driven largely by geography.

In short, your chances of surviving a bout with cancer may very well be determined by where you live.

As the molecular imaging work of the Carbone Cancer Center and its partners has matured, the next step was obvious: Making it available to more people statewide.

That's why Gov. Scott Walker included $3.75 million in his proposed state budget bill to build on existing investments by the UW-Madison and the private sector, nearly $200 million in total, with the goal of providing better access to clinical trials across the state.

It won't happen overnight, but the goal is to launch a few clinical trials in the Cancer Canter's existing network over several years. That network includes 17 oncology care sites across Wisconsin, including some that are not equipped to handle full-blown trials.

"Clinical trials are extraordinarily useful for understanding patient care and they can become even more so with advanced molecular imaging protocols," said Dr. George Wilding, director of the Carbone Cancer Center. "This program will radically change the inequality in access to the patient care enabled by advanced imaging."

The benefits of cancer research and product development to human health is obvious, but less recognized is the economic effect of the disease itself – and the investment in combating it.

More than 11,200 people in Wisconsin died from cancer in 2010, according to state health records, or one-fourth of all deaths in the state that year. The cost of treating cancer in Wisconsin is expected to grow to $4 billion by 2015, a recent study concluded. Finding ways to diagnose and treat cancer earlier can save lives – and dollars.

Researchers at the Carbone Cancer Center receive and spend about $150 million in grants and other research awards every year, which creates jobs directly and indirectly while maintaining an infrastructure that is outfitted to fight against cancer.

As one of first comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, the Carbone Cancer Center is a Wisconsin asset. It will become even more valuable as its molecular imaging breakthroughs become more available statewide.

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


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Morna Foy: Career exploration, college options for high school students

By Morna Foy
There was a time when a high school diploma was the ticket to many family-sustaining careers, allowing access to more than 70 percent of all jobs in 1973 according to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. That is no longer the case, with the Center reporting that by 2020, 65 percent of jobs will require at least some education or skills training beyond high school.

That dramatic shift makes robust Career and Technical Education (CTE) partnerships all the more critical. These increasingly innovative collaborations allow high school students to explore career opportunities, experience the rigorous education needed to access them after high school, and understand career progression potential.

CTE students often earn college credits and gain personal enrichment at the same time. Just as importantly, some students identify career fields in which they find they are not interested, saving significant time and investment after high school.

Throughout February, as part of CTE month, I had the chance to see first-hand impressive collaborations that Wisconsin's technical colleges have with high schools throughout the state. I'm proud to support these partnerships. They consistently open doors to promising futures in agriculture, business, manufacturing, health care, marketing, information technology and engineering careers.

Wisconsin's technical colleges provide education -- and a graduate placement rate that consistently averages about 90 percent -- in these and many other fields, preparing individuals for high-skill, high-wage careers. Unfortunately, many high school students -- and those they rely upon for guidance -- are often unfamiliar with these opportunities.

All of us -- parents, educators, and employers -- share responsibility for furthering career awareness and exploration. It can be as simple as helping students identify areas of ability and interest, with the help of online resources like the Wisconsin Career Pathways website, or the Career Interest Questionnaire on the Wisconsin Technical College System website. You might also consider creating or supporting job shadowing opportunities or career days.

Perhaps most importantly, you can find a way to get involved with delivering, supporting, or taking advantage of the many CTE options that currently exist for students, or that could exist with your vision or assistance.

For more than 20 years, Wisconsin's technical colleges have been energetically engaged in middle and high school CTE programs, with more than 90,000 students currently participating. But there is a need to accomplish much more. We can do that, together, by promoting career awareness and college credit options every month of the year.

-- Foy is president of the Wisconsin Technical College System, which offers more than 300 programs awarding two-year associate degrees, one- and two-year technical diplomas and short-term technical diplomas and certificates.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Tom Still: Beginning of ‘sequester’ budget cuts drive home debate over federal R&D role

By Tom Still
Embedded in the national debate over automatic cuts in the federal budget – the so-called "sequester" – is a question that could hit Wisconsin harder than many states: What is Washington's role in fostering innovation?

The answer is vital to the state's academic research institutions, many of its entrepreneurs and the larger goal of making Wisconsin more competitive in the global economy.

Major research universities such as the UW-Madison and the Medical College of Wisconsin, academic health centers, small businesses driven by R&D and others are bracing for the effects of "sequestration," or automatic spending cuts, to programs that have historically attracted federal dollars.

These programs finance basic research as well as applied research that spurs American innovation while creating new companies and jobs, which are the life's blood of the U.S. economy.

Unless Congress and the Obama administration pull off the "Jedi mind meld" the president envisioned Friday, rolling cuts will take place in the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Science Foundation. Estimates vary, but some experts fear two-thirds of all new research grants would be eliminated.

In a Feb. 27 letter to Wisconsin's two U.S. senators, UW System President Kevin Reilly predicted the UW-Madison alone could lose about $35 million in research funding over the coming year. That's off a base of roughly $1 billion per year.

"The figure would be compounded by losses at all the institutions because every institution of the UW System receives NSF funding, which is scheduled for deep cuts," Reilly said. "Of equal concern is the fear that research agencies will slow down renewals and reduce the aggregate number of new awards that are approved. This will result in fewer grants approved, less research undertaken, and a reduced capacity to grow the economy or advance medical care."

The issue is more important to Wisconsin than most states because academic R&D is one of relatively few areas in the federal budget where the state performs well. Wisconsin boast a little more than 1.8 percent of the nation's population but it attracts nearly 2.2 percent of the nation's academic R&D spending. The state also fares well in attracting its share of Small Business Innovation Research grants, which are awarded by 11 different federal agencies to companies and researchers with the most promising commercial technologies.

Will all the gloom-and-doom take place overnight now that the March 1 deadline has passed? Not really. It will take some time for federal agencies to figure out where cuts will take place, and how soon, and Congress and Obama still face a March 27 deadline for passing a "continuing resolution" for the current fiscal year.

Just as the "fiscal cliff" debate before Jan. 1 resulted in some giant cans being kicked down the road, so might the latest sequester crisis. However, the debate is so far missing a sense of bipartisan consensus that was evident even during last fall's presidential election. Republican Mitt Romney said one of the government's useful roles is fostering innovation while investing in technologies – power generation, fuel cells, nanotechnology and materials science – that spur economic growth. For his part, Obama has stressed the importance of alternative energy and related technologies and using two-year colleges to train workers in tech and health fields.

One of America's enduring advantages in a competitive world is its ability to invent and innovate. The marketplace can't pull out new ideas if they aren't there. Federal investment in R&D since World War II has been the seed corn for countless ideas, thousands of companies and millions of private-sector jobs that might not exist today if not for a commitment to basic research.

Wisconsin doesn't haul in a wealth of defense or Medicare dollars, at least compared to other states, but its R&D centers and entrepreneurs compete admirably for merit-based grants. That's an edge that could be lost if cuts over time fall disproportionately on research and development.

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


Friday, March 1, 2013

Kristal Young: Are you being money smart with your web site?

By Kristal Young
We're all watching our budget line extra close these days to stay ahead in our business, but are you making the best decisions for the long run? When you first built your site you had to make all the decisions. You had to decide who will create it for you, do you want to update it yourself, use a content management system or keep the web developer in the loop. What extras did you want such as a shopping cart, data bases, blog and the list goes on depending on your individual needs.

One of the biggest mistakes clients can make is they get a great web site, but then they let it sit and never update it. There are plenty of reasons why this happens, but a big one is the cost factor. The problem with this is when you let it slide too long; you get to a point, where it becomes better to just start over again. This is a much larger cost than just updating it here and there to stay current. When you fall into this pattern, you end up losing your largest initial investment every several years when a complete redesign is in order instead of putting forth the smaller effort and costs to make small updates along the way.

If you haven't updated your web site recently, CALL YOUR DESIGNER RIGHT AWAY! Not sure if you qualify for a tune-up? Follow these guidelines.

Make sure your web site:

1. Has regular text changes on it to keep it fresh for search engine optimization. The more frequent the better. It's even possible to implement code that automatically changes it on a daily basis.

2. Has updated content, be it graphic or text, which reflects your company, which is also continually changing. (This could be new staff photos, new specials going on, etc.)

3. Is keeping up with technology and uses the best interface possible for your needs. For instance, does the navigation still make sense and is it easy for people to find what they need.

If you don't know how your site is holding up in comparison to these suggestions, that's ok. Your web designer can help you answer them. The important thing is to at least ask these questions so you keep the momentum of your new site moving. You want to take ownership of your site, and be aware that it's most advantageous to keep it fresh. Just like you wouldn't dream of buying a new car and skipping the regular oil changes to maintain it, make it your goal to treat your web site investment with the same care.

-- Young, owner and graphic designer of Kristal Clear Graphics in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, offers creative services in print, web and beyond. Now specializing in social media design for business identity, you can visit online at www.kristalcleargraphics.com or like Kristal Clear Graphics on Facebook.


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