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View from around the state: Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. needs to be shaped up

There’s one thing to say about the changes in the works for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.:

It’s about time.

There’s been one issue after another in recent months for the WEDC, the year-old public-private economic development agency championed by Gov. Scott Walker to replace the Department of Commerce.

The idea behind the agency was that the state’s economic development efforts needed to be centralized somewhere other than in Commerce, and that the new agency could attract private funding to help existing businesses thrive and grow in Wisconsin, as well as draw new businesses to the state.

But it’s been a rocky road for the WEDC and Walker has promised “dramatic moves” to straighten it out.

Among the issues:

In June, the state Department of Administration took bids for a statewide computer system to integrate information on student performance and demographics. But it found out that the WEDC had already made what it called a “soft offer” of a tax credit to a state company involved in the bidding. The company — Skyward, based in Stevens Point — said it would leave the state if it didn’t get the contract for the statewide system. The DOA said it had to suspend the bid process because the tax credit offer violates the competitiveness of the process. And the WEDC rescinded the tax credit offer.

In July, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the WEDC was running at a deficit, projected to spend $14 million in this fiscal year than it’s getting.

In August, the WEDC was criticized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for not following federal law, as well as the agency’s own policies, in giving out $10 million in grants. The federal agency ordered the state to hire a high-level administrator for oversight purposes. Fuel was added to the fire in this case when the WEDC’s board wasn’t told about the letter of admonition.

In September, WEDC CEO Paul Jadin announced his resignation, to lead a regional economic development group in Madison.

Last week, it was announced that the WEDC had lost track of $69 million in loans, $9 million of which were overdue.

Walker has appointed Reed Hall, a former Marshfield Clinic executive director, as the interim CEO and a search firm was hired to find a permanent replacement.

There’s a lot on the line with the WEDC. So far, it has not been a success. As the recent events have shown, it’s past time to retool the agency and get it on the right track.

The state’s economy depends on it.

— The Post-Crescent, Appleton.

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