Janesville44.5°

It’s time for our region to live up to its potential

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Mark Cullen & Gary Wolter
April 25, 2012

Most people living in this region would agree that we have a lot going for us. National rankings tell us we’re doing things right when it comes to quality of life.


But have the high rankings we’ve received for quality of life made us less sensitive, maybe even oblivious, to low rankings we’ve received for business vitality?


Recent research data suggest the Madison region—defined as Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Rock and Sauk counties—lags peer regions in business start-ups, job creation and per capita income. These economic development activities are important because they provide the tax base to support schools that educate our children and government services that help enhance our quality of life.


So the real question is: Why haven’t we been able to leverage our enviable quality of life, highly educated workforce and world-class research into a more flourishing, competitive economy?


Because we haven’t collectively turned our attention to developing our advantages, while many other regions have been collaboratively planning and investing in economic growth initiatives for years, even decades. Communities such as Des Moines, Iowa; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Lincoln, Neb., often have much less to work with than our region but have surpassed us in creating jobs and income. The numbers are embarrassing.


The recession has changed everything, giving us a sense of urgency and the recognition that we’re stronger working across municipal boundaries in an increasingly global economy. We have a clear choice: become more aggressive and regional in our approach to economic development or fall further behind in economic competitiveness.


Thrive, the economic development partnership for the eight-county region, has identified clear ways public and private entities can come together to address some of the most pressing economic growth opportunities and challenges our region faces. Thrive recently spearheaded a comprehensive, actionable strategy called Advance Now, which was developed the last eight months with the input of more than 2,000 community and business leaders, elected officials and citizens. The initiative is being launched today to a capacity crowd, a promising sign that a broad range of implementation partners is ready to put the plan to work in five measurable goal areas:


--Advance economic competitiveness.


--Advance human capital.


--Advance innovation and entrepreneurship.


--Advance the Madison region’s story.


--Advance regional cooperation, leadership and diversity.


These strategic goal areas include key action items such as retaining and growing existing businesses, creating new partnerships that integrate local businesses into education and workforce training, and increasing access to capital needed for business start-ups.


We’ve taken the first step of planning. Now it is up to all of us to become more aware and engaged in carrying out the vision and realizing the potential of the region. Thrive will be assembling workgroups this summer, and we encourage interested individuals and organizations to hear about more specific initiatives planned for the next one to five years. We hope you’ll join us and discover ways to get involved in Advance Now implementation. To learn more, please visit advancenow.thrivehere.org.


Thrive (thrivehere.org) is the economic development partnership for the eight-county Madison region with a vision to create a dynamic environment where people and businesses prosper. Mark Cullen is chairman of Thrive and chairman of J.P. Cullen & Sons in Janesville. Gary Wolter is immediate past chairman of Thrive and chairman, president and CEO of Madison Gas & Electric. Thrive’s offices are at 615 E. Washington Ave., P.O. Box 71, Madison, WI 53701.

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