Madison — The University of Wisconsin System and the Board of Regents, in partnership with a variety of interested parties across Wisconsin, will host a statewide economic summit later this year to help create a strategic plan for Wisconsin in the “New Economy.”

The major initiative will identify opportunities and strategies for strengthening Wisconsin’s place in the emerging global economic framework, drawing upon partnerships and expertise in the business community, education, labor, and government. The Wisconsin Economic Summit will be held Nov. 29 – Dec. 1 at the Midwest Express Center in downtown Milwaukee.

Jay L. Smith, president of the UW System Board of Regents, said he expects the Summit to attract a large statewide audience who will engage in a sweeping debate about where the state’s economy ought to go — and how to get there.

“We want the Summit to assess where Wisconsin fits into the global marketplace, what strategies offer the most promise, what things ought to be avoided, and where the biggest opportunities lie,” Smith said. “It is our hope that the end result will be a very strong public policy and economic development vision for Wisconsin that resonates far into the 21st century.”

The Wisconsin Economic Summit will be built around seven key topics:

  • Building Quality Jobs
  • Enlarging Venture Capital Investment.
  • Improving the Regulatory Climate
  • Educating the Workforce
  • Improving Wisconsin’s Fiscal Future and Entrepreneurial Climate
  • Enhancing Key Infrastructures
  • Building a Distinctive Brand/Image to Position Wisconsin as a Technology and Fast-Growing Jobs Leader.

UW System President Katharine Lyall said the idea for a Wisconsin Economic Summit was sparked in February when UW System and community leaders began an informal discussion on the changing nature of Wisconsin’s economy.

“What started as an early conversation about the role of the University in helping to promote Wisconsin’s future competitiveness quickly grew into a much broader discussion of how to produce a blueprint that moves the state into a stronger competitive position in the New Economy,” Lyall said.

Smith said the Summit process will encourage “…a coming together of the best and brightest ideas in Milwaukee’s manufacturing, technology and professional sectors, the Chippewa Valley’s burgeoning high-tech corridor, the fast-growing Fox Valley-to-Green Bay region, and the Greater Madison biotechnology sector, for starters.”

“As a state, Wisconsin has shown foresight in its previous efforts to support a strong economy,” Smith said. “Yet we have to ask ourselves whether Wisconsin is prepared to capture its share of quality jobs that are touted for rapid growth in the 21st century. And, how do we compare with neighboring states in educating our workforce, retaining our college graduates, and attracting knowledge workers to Wisconsin?”

Smith and Lyall said that the Summit will consider strategies for maximizing New Economy innovation, science and technology, as well as Wisconsin’s future performance in the more traditional manufacturing and agriculture sectors. Creating such a blueprint will require the input and partnership of many interests across Wisconsin, they added.

The Wisconsin Economic Summit process will accomplish three essential goals:

  1. Provide a forum for information sharing that includes all citizens.
  2. Create a feeling of statewide unity and ownership in the development of economic strategies for the future of our state.
  3. Demonstrate the benefits of a collaborative, partnership approach to action.

“There are many voices weighing in on the issue of where Wisconsin’s economy ought to be five, ten years from now,” Lyall stated. “It’s logical that the UW System serve as a neutral forum for bringing these voices together. We intend to cast a large net and invite as many as possible to join a focused conversation that leads to specific strategies.”

As a statewide, non-partisan entity the UW System is well-suited to host such a conversation, Smith said. “Plus, we are concerned on issues of substance,” he added. “The UW has always been a catalyst for the growth and development of the state. Today, more than ever before, we’re concerned about jobs for our graduates, as well as our ability to accelerate our success in creating research- and technology-based companies for the future.”

Key activities leading up to the November summit include:

  • The naming of a statewide Economic Summit Planning Committee, to be announced in July. The committee will be representative of varied interests (i.e., labor, business, K-12 education, technical and private post-secondary education, state agencies, existing economic development groups), and geographical regions across the state. Members will assist in contacting business leaders, education experts, statewide organizations and the public to raise awareness and solicit their ideas and opinions on how to move the economy forward. Members of the initial discussion group, co-chaired by Smith and Lyall, will join the larger, statewide committee.
  • The release of a series of expert white papers, prepared by academic and private-sector authorities, examining key topics and recommending solutions for maximizing Wisconsin’s potential.
  • The naming of at least four regional subcommittees: Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin, Madison and southcentral Wisconsin, the Chippewa Valley, and the Fox Valley to Green Bay. Within these regions, public forums will be held to generate ideas around each of the seven key topics and to formulate draft recommendations that support the statewide strategic plan, yet are reflective of regional characteristics.
  • The broad circulation of a Wisconsin Economic Summit “Case Statement.” This document introduces the need for a strategic vision to guide Wisconsin’s transition from the Industrial Economy that characterized the 20th century to the knowledge-based New Economy. The case statement is available on the Internet, at:
  • The creation of an Internet website which will allow citizens, business and community leaders, government officials and others to offer their ideas and commentary.
  • The conducting of focus group sessions with leaders of local, regional and statewide organizations that contribute to economic development, labor and workforce issues, public policy development, and education.

Despite near full employment in Wisconsin, some might ask: Why worry? Smith said, “The truth is, Wisconsin’s economy is at a crossroads and we cannot assume that past policies and investments will continue to yield strong returns.”

“Working together, we can help Wisconsin respond to the forces of economic change and ensure a brighter future for all citizens,” he continued. “The Wisconsin Economic Summit is the right vehicle at the right time to engage this essential challenge. Let’s begin the conversation.”


Jonathan Henkes, UW System
(608) 263-3362