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Industry reacts to Walker’s call for Commerce Department shake up (UPDATE)

By Marie Rohde

Construction industry leaders want Gov.-elect Scott Walker to trim the regulatory fat from the state Department of Commerce while remaking the agency into a partly private board.

This is the perfect time to look at all of Commerce’s regulations,” said Jim Boullion, director of governmental affairs for the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin. “The most important thing they can do is look at all these rules and determine which ones have a purpose.”

Walker wants to replace Commerce with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., a 12-member board that would promote business in the state and encourage job growth. A chief executive officer — not a secretary — would lead the corporation, and Walker would serve as chairman of the board.

But the state will stumble in promoting business growth if it doesn’t commit to at least some deregulation, said John Mielke, vice president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin Inc.

“There are good regulations, and we don’t want to see them orphaned when Commerce is eliminated,” said Mielke. “Our primary objective is to see that whatever secretary is in charge of the rules has what I call the right regulatory attitude.”

One piece of legislation Mielke said the industry could do without goes into effect next year and requires the licensing of workers who wrap insulation around pipes.

“Among other things, the legislation requires a statewide inspector who will be paid $80,000 a year to inspect the insulation,” he said. “I’m not sure the state has the money to hire an inspector even if it is needed.

“The legislation also requires that a thermal mechanical contractor be trained under the supervision of a licensed thermal contractor,” Mielke added. “That’s a problem since there are no licensed thermal mechanical contractors.”

Wall bracing regulations enacted two years ago also deserve a second look, said Jerry Deschane, executive vice president of the Wisconsin Builders Association.

“The requirements were developed from a national model and require that new construction withstand hurricane-force winds,” Deschane said. “Do we really need that in Wisconsin?”

The state should also consider getting out of the business of inspecting the plans for commercial buildings, he said.

“Right now, it’s done by the state and the municipality,” Deschane said. “You need one good inspector looking at the plans. You don’t need to do it twice.”

Mielke also questioned a requirement that contractors pay $125 every four years to be listed on a building contractor registry maintained by Commerce. While the cost is minor, it’s also irritating, he said.

“I’m not sure what they do with the money or the list,” Mielke said. “I don’t know what we get for it other than a plaque for our office.”

Deschane predicted many of the regulatory duties of Commerce would be shifted to the Department of Licensing and Regulation following Commerce’s reorganization.

“The state has to sift through all of these regulations and figure out which ones make sense,” Deschane said. “Too many of them just hinder job creation, and those need to be eliminated.”


  1. Good move.

    Ironically, if you have people with brains that understand long-term job creation on that board, the first question they’d ask is why we denied high-speed rail.

  2. It’s because the board should be made up of business people “with brains” that we would address the needs and practicality of business, which would equal long term jobs. When we spend money on needed infrastructure, as opposed to short term pet projects that create greater long term expense after the short term jobs are done, that we will see the greater sustained recovery.

  3. Businesses that relocate due to rail access = long-term jobs (plus short-term construction jobs!). I know… I’ve met with several.

  4. “The requirements were developed from a national model and require that new construction withstand hurricane-force winds,” Deschane said. “Do we really need that in Wisconsin?”

    Mr. Deschane,

    Yes, we do. What is wrong with wanting to build things well and robustly? Too much of what we build is shoddy. What’s wrong with rules that require we use quality materials and building techniques?

  5. I now understand where Walker got the wrong impression last week that hurricane clips were required to be used in WI building construction. No, Mr. Deschane, buildings in WI do not have to withstand hurricane force winds like they do in the southern coastal areas of the country where buildings have to be designed to meet a 150 mph wind gust, but we do have wind in WI (at least as of this morning when I walked from the parking lot from my truck into the office). The min. requirement in WI is that buildings must be designed to withstand a 3-second long 90 mph wind gust.

  6. Why would we want to eliminate having the state review building plans? Now we have a centralized system with plan reviewers who are highly familiar with the statewide building code not a fragmented system where local inspection departments interpret codes and do those reviews. Local building inspectors rely on those reviewers decisions and interpretations and for the most part it’s the local inspectors job to inspect the construction for code compliance. Architects and engineers can rely on fairly consistent code interpretations through that centralized sytem. This system works and hsould be retained.

  7. Every city seams to be charging a yearly registration fee or certification for contractors Why not just once at the state level and be done with it? To hold a registration and pay a fee in every municipality that you work in is crazy.
    Thats like requiring a sticker and added fee on your car for every county you drive in.

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