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Governor, cabinet visit Southwest Wisconsin
Cabinet on the Road stops in Platteville, Fennimore, Lancaster, Darlington
1 Walker at territorial capitol
Gov. Scott Walker talks at the First Capitol Historic Site in the Town of Belmont Monday afternoon.

Page 331 of the Wisconsin Blue Book 2015–2016 has a list titled “State Officers Appointed by the Governor As Required by Statute.”

It appeared that most of the names on that 17-page-long listing that included the title “Secy.” — short for “secretary” — could be found in Southwest Wisconsin Sunday and Monday.

Gov. Scott Walker and most of his appointed cabinet toured Southwest Wisconsin as part of Walker’s Cabinet on the Road initiative, starting with a gathering at Pioneer Lanes Sunday night, ending with a cabinet meeting at the First Capitol Historic Site in the Town of Belmont, and in between meeting with county board chairs, business owners, veterans and others.

“We wanted to send a clear and positive message to all the folks in Southwest Wisconsin that we get it, that this area is important to the economy of Wisconsin, that this area is important to the quality of life in Wisconsin,” said Walker, who said he had been through the area on motorcycle on several times. 

The appearance of government officials in suits might have been unexpected for some people. Dave Ross, secretary of the Department of Safety and Professional Services, said he stopped for coffee in a restaurant, and “the buzz was really quite interesting” inside.

“The buzz that was created by this tour will be reverberating for a long time,” said state Rep. Todd Novak (R–Dodgeville).

State Sen. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green) said there was “nothing better than face-to-face level of communication.”

“People here are special,” said Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City). I think it’s great you get out of Madison and understand why we got into public service in the first place.”

One issue brought up in several stops on the tour was the state’s workforce, and doing a better job aligning available jobs with available workers and their skills.

Representatives from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the Department of Workforce Development were at Steve’s Pizza Palace in Platteville Monday morning along with local business people.

One was Brad Biddick of Biddick, Inc., whose Rural Route 1 Popcorn business was an offshoot of Biddick’s seed business.

“We were lucky we had one business we could leverage against another one, and have success,” he said. “I don’t know if I would do that today,” he added, citing “too much uncertainty; too much goofiness around me.”

WEDC president Mark Hogan noted the Steve’s Pizza expansion project and the Library Block project across the street and said, “The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Platteville. … We do things from the state perspective … but it’s like the Library Block across the street — local interests made the decision to proceed, and you find a way to get it done.”

The Library Block project is being funded in part by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. WHEDA director Wyman Winston called the project “the first time somebody has been able to marry rural development and New Market Tax Credits.”

See CABINET page 3A υ

One challenge to “entrepreneurial spirit” Hogan listed was “Today I think people are more risk-averse” because of the late-2000s Great Recession. But “we support them, and I can tell you the Legislature supports them.”

Hogan said future business growth will depend on “people willing to take a chance … whoever the entrepreneur is is going to develop jobs, not the state.”

State funding issues were mentioned frequently. UW–Platteville dean Wayne Weber said UWP’s entrepreneurship minor was “going through uncertainty frankly through budget cuts.”

“The challenge is always limited resources,” said Hogan. “We need to figure out ways to reallocate resources to invest in that entrepreneurial spirit. We can’t let that die.”

DWD secretary Ray Allen said his department’s focus has changed.

“Thirty years ago, even 10 years ago, Workforce Development was really a benefits department,” he said. Now, his new department — Allen was named to his position two months ago — works with employers “to help you find employees for jobs.”

With decreases in unemployment, increases in workforce participation and “tremendous growth” in new business, “all that creates pressure” on the workforce, said Allen. “We have to utilize what’s here” through apprenticeship programs for new and retraining employees.

Allen suggested that area school districts need to “give exposure to your businesses right here in your community” to help students determine what they want to do after graduation.

“For better or worse, a lot of our students are regional,” said Weber. “That’s why a lot of our industry partners are excited about our students.”

Two examples of utilizing a nontraditional workforce were the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen, staffed by clients of the Hodan Center in Mineral Point, and Nu-Pak in Boscobel, which is looking at using work-release inmates from the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution for work.

“They’re hiring people who made mistakes in the past,” said Department of Corrections secretary Jon Litscher, who added that work at Wisconsin Badger Camp in Wyalusing was also being done by Prairie du Chien inmates.

While the WEDC event was taking place, state Secretary of Veterans Affairs John Scocos was meeting with veterans two blocks away.

One veteran said veterans were being “disenfranchised” in some areas of the state — for instance, not being able to get from Platteville to Lancaster.

“The counties drive the train” on veterans’ affairs offices, Scocos said. He said the state has given $126 million to counties for veterans affairs since 1946, but there had not been an audit of county veterans’ spending before last year. 

“The first audit was last year, and it was disappointing,” said Scocos. “A lot of counties are doing a great job and should be rewarded.”

Scocos also met with veterans in Darlington concerned about veteran homelessness. He said veterans are also “worried about federal health care” and the possible closing of Veterans Administration health care facilities.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch was in Prairie du Chien Monday to announce a new facility for Solomon Corp. of Solomon, Kan. The company, which sells electrical transformers, is projected to add 24 jobs.

Ironically, the Solomon ceremony was interrupted, and another Prairie du Chien appearance was canceled, because of a power outage.

In Darlington, Walker signed Assembly Bill 771, which funds a drug task force for Lafayette County, which was the only county not part of a law enforcement drug task force due to not being able to fund a full-time officer.

State Rep. Todd Novak (R–Dodgeville), an author of the bill, said he ran for office to help fight rural crime and drug use.

“I believe it’s important to give law enforcement the tools they need to fight this ongoing problem,” he said. 

Novak added that without belonging to a task force or even having a dedicated officer to work on drug related issues, Lafayette County has become isolated and needs help. 

The bill gives Lafayette County $20,000 this year and $50,000 in 2017. Lafayette County Sheriff Reg Gill hopes to place a full-time deputy into this position into one of the area task forces.

“It will not only allow for that deputy to concentrate on drug investigations, but will also bring the added resources of the task force alongside to further assist us,” he said.

One drug-related issue, opioid abuse, came up elsewhere. 

“They are starting to see more problems with meth again, and they are starting to see more problems with heroin again, but it all starts with prescription drugs,” said deputy secretary of Health Services Tom Engels.

Litscher visited the Grant County drug treatment court spearheaded by Circuit Judges Robert VanDeHey and Craig Day. Litscher said over its existence 40 people charged with drug offenses had been diverted from prison.

Department of Children and Families secretary Eloise Anderson was in Platteville to meet with Family Advocates of Grant County, and in Richland Center to visit Ada James Place.

Anderson said in university towns “housing is very expensive for low-income people.” She added that female single parents also have difficulty finding child care if they work second- or third-shift jobs.

She also noted the lack of “perpetrator programs” in domestic abuse cases — “you can’t solve the domestic violence program by just helping the victim and doing nothing for the perpetrator.”

Ross mentioned concerns about “increasing costs and burdens of credentialing” for doctors, as well as “increasing requirements for volunteer fire departments” mentioned during his stop in Gays Mills.

Secretary of Transportation Mark Gottlieb was in Prairie du Chien for a Don’t Text and Drive event sponsored by the American Automobile Association and AT&T, and in Boscobel for the groundbreaking of the first segment of a bike trail along U.S. 61 and the Wisconsin River.

Secretary of Tourism Stephanie Klett was in Darlington to present the Canoe Festival organization a plaque commemorating the 50 years of the Canoe Festival. The presentation included several people involved in the first Canoe Festivals, as well as members of the Beowulf Motorcycle Club, which has sponsored the event recently.

Hogan toured Wisconsin Whey, which expanded with the help of $1.5 million in state assistance.

Walker met with area county board chairs in Lancaster Monday morning.

Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel and Public Service Commission chair Ellen Nowak attended a meeting about broadband access in Platteville in the morning, but the subject came up in numerous other places.

“Today, we were all about broadband,” said Nowak. “I appreciated before that there was a need, and I really appreciate now that there’s a need.”

“Broadband came up at every stop no matter what we were talking about,” said Neitzel.

Department of Revenue deputy secretary Jack Jablonski attended a new business tax seminar in Platteville.

“They were just starting their business, they were enthusiastic about starting a business, and they wanted to do the right thing,” he said.

Department of Financial Institutions secretary Lon Roberts visited what he called “two very interesting banks in the southwest part of the state” in Mineral Point and Prairie du Chien, both of which have “a very big part of their portfolio” in businesses dependent on foreign trade.

State Commissioner of Insurance Ted Nickel visited four town mutual insurance companies — Jamestown Mutual in Kieler, Farmers Mutual in Bloomington, Liberty Fire Insurance Co. in Stitzer, and Darlington Mutual.

“There’s no record of an insurance commissioner stopping to visit” those companies, he said.

Allen and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection secretary Ben Brancel visited Southwest Wisconsin Technical College in Fennimore.

Allen noted SWTC’s involvement in the Blueprint for Prosperity program to bring together students, technical colleges and businesses to align jobs with worker skills.

“Southwest Tech has job-worthy students, and they design their programs on job readiness,” said Brancel. “Depending on the [health care] facility either 70 percent of their nurses or 90 percent of their nurses are Southwest Tech grads.”

This story was reported by Steve Prestegard and Jannan Roesch in Platteville and Kayla Barnes in Darlington.