Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – I have been deeply involved in economic development in Wisconsin for the past 50 years. My company helps other companies relocate or expand their operations in our state. Site selection and job creation are part of what we do.
A 2017 national survey of executives in the manufacturing, construction, distribution and warehousing industries contains good news for states like Wisconsin that want to attract business growth and economic development — but it comes with an important warning attached.
Here’s the good news: More than two-thirds of respondents in Area Development Magazine’s 31st annual survey of corporate executives believe economic conditions in the coming year will be favorable to moving ahead with new facility or expansion plans.
There’s more. When making the decision where to build or expand, respondents told the magazine — the leading executive publication covering corporate site selection and relocation — their No. 1 consideration is highway accessibility, with 94.4% ranking it “very important” or “important.”
Easy access to a robust highway system tied directly with other pluses such as short commute times and the ability to efficiently ship and receive goods and services. Highway accessibility ranked significantly higher than many other “business-friendly” factors, including corporate tax rate, state and local incentives, environmental regulations and more.
Therein lies the warning: States that want to grow jobs and their local economy had better keep their eyes on the road. As Wisconsin strives to create 250,000 new jobs, it doesn’t make sense to take a breather from completing key projects in southeast Wisconsin that are critical to achieving that important goal.
The I-94 East-West Corridor moves hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin people to jobs and Wisconsin products to market every day, playing a vital role as the economic link between Waukesha and Milwaukee counties and the rest of the state. But the 50-year-old roadway also is congested, outdated and unsafe, and its planned 2021 rebuild is now in limbo as lawmakers in Madison continue to work to find ways to fund all the state’s critical transportation needs.
At a recent meeting of regional business leaders co-hosted by Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, the Metropolitan Association of Commerce and the Waukesha County Business Alliance, the sentiment was mutual: keeping the East-West Corridor project moving forward by enumerating it in the 2017-’19 state budget should be near the top of the Legislature’s priority list.
Delay serves only to waste $20 million the state already has invested in engineering and design work for the reconstruction and jeopardizes the nearly $2 billion spent to rebuild the Marquette and Zoo interchanges that feed into it. It subjects taxpayers to more orange barrels and a $40 million bill for a Band-Aid resurfacing that won’t fix the problem. And it makes our “Open for Business” state less appealing for the very jobs and companies we are working so hard to attract.
I’ve learned over many years in business that the key to success is to listen to your customers. Area Development Magazine’s new survey tells us exactly what businesses are looking for from Wisconsin. Taking a breather from highway reconstruction in southeast Wisconsin would be a missed economic opportunity for all of Wisconsin. Lawmakers are positioned to get this right and ensure Wisconsin remains legitimately “Open for Business.”
J. Michael Mooney is chairman and co-founder of Brookfield-based MLG Capital.