Cabinet on the road

Gov. Scott Walker speaks with his Cabinet secretaries during a special Racine County listening session on Monday at Modine Manufacturing, 1500 DeKoven Ave. To Walker’s right sits Modine President and CEO Tom Burke, who hosted Monday’s meeting. To the governor’s left is Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. ALISON BAUTER alison.bauter@journaltimes.com

RACINE — Gov. Scott Walker took his Cabinet “on the road” Monday, kicking off a series of statewide economic listening sessions at Modine Manufacturing Co. to learn how the state can best help create jobs.

His answer came from the Racine County Economic Development Corp.’s Gordy Kacala, who presented alongside a representative from the Kenosha Area Business Alliance.

According to Kacala, Racine County’s biggest economic challenge, particularly in terms of unemployment, remains the City of Racine.

Factor out the city’s 13.3 percent unemployment, he said, and Racine County’s average unemployment rate drops from 9.8 to 7.6 percent unemployment — the state average.

“People are engaged and using a variety of strategies” to combat the city unemployment rates, Kacala said, “But it’s just going to take us some time to make a change in the community.”

The pressing issue is an education system that doesn’t prepare potential employees to qualify for open jobs, Kacala said, meaning that many open positions get filled from outside county lines.

What the government can do, Kacala said, is continue to work with the county to offer tax incentives to incoming companies, something he said many have come to expect.

For developers, there’s a pervasive idea that “if you’re not asking for significant incentives, you’re missing the boat,” Kacala said. “Unfortunately, it’s still ‘show us the money.’ ”

Kacala, RCEDC’s executive director, noted a shortage in vacant industrial land, concerns about uncertainty surrounding the federal health care law and immigration policy as other places the government can provide answers and assistance.

So far he’s been pleased with state partnership on major projects, Kacala said, noting that 80 percent of the county’s 2013 business developments involved the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. with whom “we can’t be happier,” he said.

In an interview after the cabinet presentation Monday, Kacala acknowledged transparency and accountability issues with WEDC uncovered in a recent audit. But, he said, although there are “things that need to be done” and a follow-up audit should be performed, the county mostly deals with WEDC on the front-end of deals, and in that capacity he’s been very satisfied with the quasi-public economic development entity’s assistance.

For the most part Monday, Walker and his cabinet listened to Kacala’s presentation, following up with additional questions and reminding him of department services RCEDC can use.

The governor’s takeaway? “Stability,” he said. “The more stability we can provide, the easier it will be for our friends in the private sector.”

The series kicked off in Racine because the Interstate 94 corridor is ripe to entice growing businesses across state lines, Walker said. The governor plans to host a follow-up meeting in Kenosha in coming months.

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