In a recent post, I contrasted the power of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the right-leaning business lobby, with the aspirations of the Wisconsin Business Alliance, a new group that advocates for more left-leaning policy solutions to improving the business climate.
“I don't want to be anti-WMC, we're just saying that manufacturing and mining is a very small part of our economy," said Lori Compas, the president of WBA, in the article.
For instance, she said, new economy companies, such as Epic Systems, are less likely to set up near an area with a large open-pit mine. Her broader point was that good jobs seek locations with a high quality of life — including a pristine environment.
Scott Manley, the vice president of government relations for WMC, found her remarks ironic.
“In reality, Epic is located next to two open-pit mines,” he wrote in an email, citing two stone quarries located near the company's sprawling Verona campus. “I guess if Ms. Compas was trying to make the case that businesses would never locate next to a mining operation, she chose a very poor example in Epic.”
He further noted that manufacturing is the largest economic sector in Wisconsin — larger than the next two, health care and real estate, combined.
“(We're) not in this for a fight,” she says. “Picking a fight with such a large organization would be useless.”
She says that she hopes to work with WMC on issues of common interest.
“Our task is more important and, I'm sure, far less interesting to the press and other observers: We want to help elected officials and the public understand what business owners like us want and need,” she adds in the email.
WBA co-founder Brad Werntz, who owns Boulder's Climbing Gym and Pemba Serves, a distributor of high-end outdoor gear, says there are currently few voices to represent the interests of the outdoor recreation industry, which he says is threatened by state policies that degrade Wisconsin's environment and make it a less attractive destination in which to live or vacation.
He cites a 2006 report that credits outdoor recreation with contributing $9.6 billion to Wisconsin's economy and supporting 129,000 jobs.
“We keep hearing it's 'jobs or the environment,'” he says. “I'm here to tell you as somebody who makes 100 percent of his living in the outdoor industry that it's jobs and the environment.”
And, for better or worse, says Werntz, manufacturing is on the decline. The sooner the state addresses the changing dynamics of the economy, the better.
But Manley says focusing on manufacturing is a priority — not only because WMC's membership skews toward traditional industry — but because manufacturing jobs pay better on average than others.
“Manufacturing jobs are family-supporting, middle class jobs,” he says.
Nevertheless, Manley is adament that WMC is not focused exclusively on the factory-based economy.
"If you look at our membership — our membership reflects the broad spectrum of business interests. I think virtually every sector of our economy is reflected. Slightly over half of our members are manufacturers."