Monday, February 13, 2017

Scared, lazy WIsconsin business community holding state back

Another recent article confirms that Wisconsin keeps falling behind in startup activity in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) noted that fewer new businesseses have been getting established in most parts of the nation during the 2010s, but Wisconsin has done even worse than most places, and that more Wisconsin businesses closed than opened between 2010 and 2014.
John Lettieri, EIG cofounder and senior director for policy and strategy, said the number of new companies formed in the state lagged behind those that closed, even as figures like employment and GDP began to rebound.

"Wisconsin has a really low startup rate – in fact it has the 48th lowest startup rate in the country over the course of the recovery," Lettieri said. "That’s a concerning starting point. It gets worse when you look at the closure rate, the death rate of firms."

Madison and Eau Claire were the only metro areas in Wisconsin with higher numbers of new businesses than closures during the period, according to Governing Magazine.

The greater Milwaukee-area saw the second-largest decline in the number of firms of any city in the United States, falling by 627 firms.
But why should we be surprised by this. The economic strategy of Scott Walker, the Wisconsin GOP, and their puppetmasters at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Koch Industries has been to give the most assistance to established, old-economy campaign donors businesses. The mediocre oligarchs in the WMC world don’t want to make an effort to excel and improve their product, but merely want to grab more profits off of their workers and gobble up market share from potential new competitors.

This attitude is even worse in the Milwaukee area, where the pro-Walker Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce consistently whines about “skills shortages.” Let's go back to this article from 4 years ago, and given Wisconsin’s consistent standing near the bottom of manufacturing wages for Midwestern states (according to the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages), I have little reason to believe this attitude is much different today among many CEOs.
Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside Milwaukee, told me that he would hire as many skilled workers as show up at his door. Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” Isbister, after all, doesn’t abide by strict work rules and $30-an-hour salaries. At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour….

In retrospect, the post-World War II industrial model did a remarkably good job of supporting a system in which an 18-year-old had access to on-the-job training that was nearly certain to pay off over a long career. That system had its flaws — especially a shared complacency that left manufacturers and laborers unprepared for global trade and technological change. Manufacturers, of course, have responded over the past 20 years by dismantling it. Yet Isbister’s complaint suggests some hope — that there’s a lack of skilled workers; that factory layoffs overshot, and now need a reversal. As we talked, it became clear that Isbister’s problem is part of a larger one. Isbister told me that he’s ready to offer training to high-school graduates, some of whom, he says, will eventually make good money. The problem, he finds, is that far too few graduate high school with the basic math and science skills that his company needs to compete. As he spoke, I realized that this isn’t a narrow problem facing the manufacturing industry. The so-called skills gap is really a gap in education, and that affects all of us.
So does Isbister demanding more investment into K-12 public schools or tech colleges, or is he raising wages to try to attract post-HS and college workers with the skills he wants? OF COURSE NOT, he just wants to pay poverty wages to people who rightfully won’t accept being driven into poverty after using their education to learn and perfect a skill.

And instead of being laughed out of town and GenMet closing its doors for being so poorly run, Isbister’s wife is still on the MMAC Board as the President of GenMet, which tells you that Tim Sheehy and the other right-wingers in that oligarch org are more than OK with such a regressive attitude. And these are the type of “manufacturers” that Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP insist are in need of a tax break, despite refusing to create jobs or get competitive with the reality of the 2017 economy.

Maybe these business oligarchs need to start paying up, both in wages and taxes, since they’re clearly not doing anything productive with the giveaways and wage suppression they’ve been given by their WisGOP puppet politicians. And maybe we should be instead concentrating on making Wisconsin a place where new businesses and people with brains want to locate in, and get paid decently in.

Oh, but that might mean clowns like Eric Isbister may have to shape up and try to improve instead of backing thousands of dollars of dark money behind WisGOP candidates. It's much easier to be lazy and pay guys off when you're a member of Wisconsin's connected corporate community. And that attitude is why the suggested "remedies" from those mediocrities should be ignored by anyone who truly wants this state's economy to be something that might attract talent and be something other than a joke.


  1. It is not the taxpayers' obligation to produce a line of applicants stretching out the door who are possessed of the proper ideological purity, willing to do the offered work at the offered wages in the offered environment knowing the likely progression and who possess the precise skill set needed to make them profitable without OTJ training.

    I can only hope we've finally reached a point where work needs to start paying more and people are starting to compete for labor again.

    It would be good for working people to be on the other side of that equation for once in my adult life.

    1. No kidding. It's amazing to me how the MMAC and WMC types think they bear no responsibility for stepping up and improving things.

      Instead, they're part of the "business community" that's donating to voucher-supporting candidates for school superintendent, and cooking up secret schemes to take over urban school districts.

      That's not really helping to solve the "skills gap", is it? Greedy bastards.