Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Now You See Him and Now You Don't

Two weeks ago I posted a video featuring two board members from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). In the video both stressed how important reliable public transit was for business. After seeing that video I asked exactly where their passionate support for public transit was now that high speed rail is in jepordy.

Today I discovered yet another interesting video. This one was included in a story by the Daily Reporter. The video is from the March press conference announcing that trainmaker Talgo was planning on locating its manufacturing plant in Milwaukee. According to the video and to the accompanying Daily Reporter story, several officals were at the press conference. The report says that "One of the welcoming speakers on that cold day in March was Tim Sheehy, the president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce".

Talgo has been rightfully asking where the support of these Milwaukee-area business elites are now? It is a very good question, that I have been asking for weeks. Apparently Tim Sheehy was more than happy to represent MMAC at the March press conference but now reporters can't even get him to successfully navigate a phone long enough to talk about Talgo.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wisconsin Business: The Haves and the Have-Nots

Ever since the work on high speed rail was halted in Wisconsin, I have been openly wondering why groups that allege to represent Wisconsin business have been largely silent. I have specifically named the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). I have repeatedly wondered why they have been content to stand mute while Milwaukee businesses, development and jobs are at risk. Earlier this week at least one of those Milwaukee businesses started asking the same questions.

Milwaukee(for now)train manufacturer Talgo asked MMAC to get off the sidelines on the high speed rail issue. Talgo is asking MMAC to take an actual position on the jobs and development that the project was already bringing to the area (not to mention the potential). It is good to see at least one business taking a stand for itself. They have been left with no choice as groups like MMAC have ignored their own stated goals and mission statements.

The only thing that I can take away from this entire episode is that just being a Wisconsin business is simply not enough. Heck, it apparently isn't even enough if you are a member of a large business group. When it is most important and your business hangs in the balance, apparently groups like MMAC operate purly from a "haves and have-nots" list for Wisconsin business. I guess I shouldn't be so surprised given the fact that MMAC funneled nearly $400,000 to benefit Scott Walker's campaign. He also operates from a very similar list. He says that Wisconsin is "open for business" but apparently not if you are a train manufacturer, an engineering & design firm, an interested developer, or an area supplier.

Other Wisconsin businesses should take note. Are you on the "haves" or the "have-nots" list in Wisconsin? If you even remotely think that it could be the latter, then you might as well prepare to fight for and represent yourself.

Monday, November 22, 2010

White House White Board: Your Health Care Dollar

Did I mention that I love the White House White Board? I think it serves as one way to break down important elements of even the most complex public policy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Where are the Milwaukee Biz Leaders Now?

Last week I openly wondered why the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) failed to take a position on the stalled high speed rail project in Wisconsin. Later in the week we finally heard from them when it was reported that the project wasn't a big deal to business elites in general and the members of MMAC in particular.

After reading about the MMAC and other business elites shrugging off the high speed rail project, I was a little surprised to hear some of the comments on the video posted below. It is about the importance of public transit to business. Here are some of the comments that I thought were particularly relevant:

  • First the President and CEO of Bucyrus International, Tim Sullivan spoke in the video. It should be noted that he is also the chairman of MMAC. He starts by saying how important transit and transit legislation is to business. He goes on to explain that a key problem that Bucyrus has faced has been an inadequate transit system. He also comments that most of his growing workforce is unable to take public transit because there isn't reliable service near Bucyrus. Later in the video he describes reliable transit as an "absolute need" for the business community.

  • Julia Taylor, President of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, describes how public transit can be an important consideration for businesses when they decide whether they will locate here (maybe Talgo could be an example of this?). She goes on to confirm that transit currently is a "major frustration" for the business community in Milwaukee.

  • Ed Zore is the CEO and President of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance. It should also be noted that he is also on the board of MMAC. In his comments he very bluntly complains about the "constant deterioration of public transit". Specifically he says that this is happening because the "fare goes up" and "the service is cut" and "at some point there is a limit to this" and then we wont have public transit.

First, I have to say that I don't disagree with anything that the above listed speakers said in the video. However, I must admit to being a little surprised to hear them so passionately support a strong and reliable public transit system. I say that because I have not noticed a single one of them taking the lead or being a voice on the high speed rail project. As far as I know they have not done this as individuals, as business leaders or as board members of MMAC and/or GMC.

I guess I'm left wondering where this kind of advocacy and passion for transportation is now? When a voice from the Milwaukee business establishment is needed most on transit, why are they so silent? These business leaders stepped up for our transportation system in this video, why can't they follow their counterparts in Madison and Watertown and do it again now?

Friday, November 12, 2010

MMAC Takes a Partisan Pass on Progress

Over the past week I have been publicly wondering why the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) has been so silent on high speed rail and all of the jobs and development that it has already brought to Milwaukee. While hundreds of current Milwaukee jobs, a new Milwaukee manufacturer, area suppliers and critical development are all hanging in the balance...MMAC has been content to stand mute.

On day six (Wednesday) they finally emerged from their increasingly isolated bunker to say that the high speed rail project really isn't that big of deal to them. And apparently new Milwaukee manufacturer Talgo is not that big of deal to them either. Likewise, MMAC is not very concerned about Talgo's area suppliers, the hundreds of current and future Talgo jobs, or the critical development of the former Tower Automotive site. This is not to even mention the 300 (non-Talgo) layoffs that have already occurred because of the stalled high speed rail project.

While I'm listing off the things that aren't such a big deal to MMAC, I certainly have to mention the City of Milwaukee. The city has been a very active partner with MMAC and area businesses in the areas of creating jobs and economic development (unlike the County). But by virtue of their "who cares" attitude on high speed rail, they are also proving themselves to be a lousy partners for the City of Milwaukee in the future. What kind of real partner is willing to so casually dismiss multi-millions of dollars in city investments in the high speed rail project? Those dollars include investing in the expansion of the Milwaukee Intermodel Station and in the aggressive efforts to successfully woo Talgo to Milwaukee. If I were a City of Milwaukee official, I would certainly have to think long and hard about whether I can afford to team-up with people that have such little regard for city interests/investments.

So what is the real reason that MMAC has taken a total pass on the high speed rail project and the jobs/commerce connected directly to it? Are these big powerful business elites simply fearful of an unchecked power-crazed governor-elect? I seriously doubt that since they very directly helped put him there (see their funnelling $400k in anonymous donations). No, it looks more and more like this recent election has finally inspired them to come-out of their partisan closet once and for all. Sadly it has also caused them to take a pass on manufacturing, commerce, jobs, development and progress in Milwaukee.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

MMAC is M.I.A. - Day 6

We are approaching a full week since work stopped on the high speed rail project. At least 300 people have been laid off and thousands of future jobs are in danger. Important development connected to the project is also in peril and we have one large company that is considering leaving the state. All of this in such a short time and still we have heard nothing from the elite groups that claim to represent business, commerce and development in Wisconsin. I'm not surprised that Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) hasn't taken a stand since they have been little more than the sugar-daddy arm of the Republican Party for years (not that this issue should even be a partisan one in the first place). But as I have stated previously, I am bitterly disappointed at the inaction of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). They have been totally missing in action as Metro Milwaukee stands to lose businesses, jobs, and development.

There are quite a few things that MMAC could learn from several other business groups that are actually defending the interests of their members. Here are just two examples:

Downtown Madison, Inc. represents over 500 member businesses and they are taking a strong stand for jobs, development and commerce. They sent a letter to Scott Walker laying out the very sound business reasons to keep these jobs and continue with this federal investment in Wisconsin. Not only have they sent this letter but they have taken their stand for jobs publicly.

The Watertown Area Chamber of Commerce also sent a letter to Walker expressing their strong support for the rail-based jobs and development project. In their letter they state that a full 85% of their members support high speed rail and the planned depot in Watertown. They lay out yet another great case for the project. Among other strong points they comment that "scrapping the high-speed rail project would be an extremely poor decision and stymie economic development in Watertown and the surrounding area."

Since I last blogged on MMAC being MIA on this important issue, some have suggested that they are losing their influence. Others have suggested they are too scared of their own shadow to defend the interests of their own members. Still others point to their increasing partisanship via the channelling of $400,000 to benefit the campaign of Scott Walker. Whatever the real reason, their silence on such a critical issue is deafening. Who will take a stand for Milwaukee business interests, jobs and development? Because MMAC seems content with being M.I.A. when it matters the most.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Walker's $100 Million Boondoggle & Jobs Killing Plan

Yesterday Governor Doyle laid out the hard numbers for what it will cost the State of Wisconsin to follow Scott Walker's blindly dogmatic position on high speed rail. Not only will the state be handing New York or some other state the $823 million but it will actually cost Wisconsin nearly $100 million. Those costs include the following:

  • $14.25 million in costs that have already been incurred

  • $19.4 million for Milwaukee Intermodal Station platform renovations and ADA and safety compliance

  • $12 million for Milwaukee Airport Station platform extension and other improvements $52 million for a permanent maintenance facility for Hiawatha train sets

  • In addition to these costs the Wisconsin Department of Transportation factsheet lists $32.9 million in already executed contracts related to the Madison and Watertown station agreements. So at the very least Walker's blind ideology will cost the state $100 million. I'm calling it "Walker's $100 million boondoggle".

    Walker's phony reason for opposing rail is that he doesn't want the state to commit to long term operational costs for the project. As is his practice, Walker uses an overinflated number for those costs saying that they would come in at $7.5 million a year. Others have more reasonably projected those costs at closer to $750,000 due to ongoing federal aid. So this brings us to an interesting point that Blogging Blue has already made. Walker says that the cost of operations are his reason for being against the project but the $100 million that he is putting us on the hook for pays for 133 years of those payments. Even if we use Walker's inaccurate and overly inflated number the $100 million that he is forcing us to spend pays for over 13 years of operational costs.

    The new data from DOT not only shows us that Walker is prepared to charge taxpayers $100 million for getting next to nothing, but that he is also purposefully killing thousands of jobs in the process. Here is the breakdown of those jobs (which does not include the hundreds of permanent Talgo jobs that are now at risk):

  • 412 immediate consultant jobs (of which up to 300 workers may have already started but are now laid-off)

  • 10 state employee layoffs (although we know that Walker doesn't value state employees)

  • 272 construction jobs

  • 60 jobs for engineering and rail design

  • Not to mention the unknown amount of jobs that suppliers of the project would create because of it.

  • A projected high point (in the 3rd year) of 5,535 future jobs

  • It is clear that Scott Walker is determined to force taxpayers to pay $100 million for next to nothing, to cost us hundreds of current jobs/thousands of potential jobs, and to make Wisconsin an island in an otherwise increasingly connected Midwest.

    Monday, November 08, 2010

    MMAC is M.I.A.

    The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) claims to be "the key private-sector partner for economic development, working to strengthen our business base and attract and retain jobs and the talent to fill them." They further claim that they "serve as the region's advocate for member businesses at the local, state and federal levels." Given that description, it seems odd that MMAC has been largely missing in action while development, hundreds of jobs and businesses have been threatened in Milwaukee over the last 5 days.

    I'm specifically talking about MMAC's silence on the killing of the high speed rail project in Wisconsin. Because of the dogmatic and often irrational opposition to the project by Scott Walker, the project was officially put on hold last week. There have already been reports of up to 300 current workers being laid off as a result with hundreds more hanging in the balance. This is not to mention the thousands of potential jobs that are directly tied to this project. Then Talgo's comments that Walker's killing the project could possibly cost Milwaukee their new plant, the hundreds of jobs that go with it and the needed development of the former Tower Automotive site. I don't know this but I'd have to imagine that Talgo and some of the other affected businesses are members of MMAC. Exactly where has been the MMAC "advocacy" for those "member businesses" on this issue?

    Perhaps MMAC is working the internal channel to Walker that they carved out by funneling $400,000 to benefit his campaign for governor. However, given their absolute silence on these recent and unfortunate developments, we don't know if they are actually doing anything to save these businesses and the jobs and development that go with them. There is a quickly closing window of opportunity for MMAC to make a difference in this situation. The question is will they take advantage of it or will they continue to be missing in action? Their actions in the coming days will say a lot about their real values. Are they really living up to their mission or are they simply becoming the latest Republican club for the business elite?

    Saturday, November 06, 2010

    Walker Layoffs Start in Private Sector

    We all know that Scott Walker will continue his model of laying off and eliminating the jobs of public employees in the state. But given his gushing over the private sector who would have thought that some of the first workers that he would lay off as governor would be 300 from private sector?

    Walker obviously isn't governor yet but make no mistake about it, if it wasn't for him, there are thousands of high speed rail jobs that wouldn't be in jeopardy right now. And as WISC-TV reported earlier this week, there are 300 current private sector workers that have already been laid off as a result. They are real people losing their real jobs as designers, engineers and consultants. I'm also sure that they have real families to support. They can thank Scott Walker, because if it weren't for him there is no doubt that they would still be working today.

    Walker's laying off of private sector workers will not stop here. If he is successful in killing high speed rail, he will also kill the current and future private sector jobs at Talgo in Milwaukee. That is just the beginning because there are thousands of other private sector jobs that will never even see the light of day.

    Who would have thought that Scott Walker's first layoffs would happen to private sector workers?

    Thursday, November 04, 2010

    Walker's High Speed Killing of Jobs

    Wisconsin Republicans repeatedly promised that their number one priority was jobs and the economy. Scott Walker promised to essentially eliminate all unemployment in Wisconsin by creating 250,000 jobs. He claimed it would be his number one priority but he certainly has a funny way of showing it. Apparently because of his dogmatic opposition to the jobs created by the high speed rail project, the Department of Transportation has temporarily halted work on it. Estimates were that the project would create thousands of new jobs. However I am only going to focus for the moment on one specific element of this project: the Talgo jobs and the related development in the City of Milwaukee.

    The City of Milwaukee worked very hard to successfully compete with other cities and it won the Talgo factory, the development and the jobs that came with it. However we are learning today that Talgo may cancel those plans if the high speed rail project is killed in Wisconsin. This brings a terrible impact to Wisconsin's largest city in several ways:
    • Milwaukee loses the permanent jobs at the Talgo facility.
    • Milwaukee could lose its $3 million investment to win the business.
    • Milwaukee could lose the job-creating economic development that was tied to the project at the former Tower Automotive site (which is in an area of high unemployment).

    It has been very clear that Scott Walker has simply not shown one ounce of real concern about jobs and economic development in Milwaukee County. He failed to create one real job for all of his eight years as county executive and he even eliminated his economic development office in the middle of the recession. He also has been totally AWOL on developing the county's valuable Park East land. But he did make endless campaign season promises about creating jobs if he were elected governor. Will he break them just like he has broken so many promises as county executive? It sure seems that way. How do you keep your jobs promises by seeking to kill so many of them before you even walk in the door?

    If Scott Walker kills the high speed rail project then at the very least the state should be prepared to make the City of Milwaukee whole. They should reimburse it for its $3 million investment, have a real plan to quickly replace the lost Talgo jobs and put together a special package to redevelop the Tower Automotive site. Anything less would be negligent and would lead to yet another broken promise from Scott Walker on what he said was his top issue.

    If Scott Walker needs some convincing to make Milwaukee whole, then maybe the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) should "man up" and call on him to do so. Don't they have an opinion on the loss of the Talgo deal and the planned development of the former Tower Automotive site? They should hold some sway with Walker since they willingly funneled nearly $400,000 to him via the Republican Governor's Association. Maybe they can tell Walker that creating jobs in Wisconsin shouldn't start with killing them in Milwaukee.

    UPDATE: The Governor-elect of New York is already saying that he would like the federal high speed rail funds if they are abandoned by Wisconsin and Ohio.

    Wednesday, November 03, 2010

    Channel Your Outrage

    There are countless things to be outraged about regarding the election results last night. For me they include some of the following:

  • The promotion of a failed county executive even though he has presided over the financial and literal falling apart of Milwaukee County(no wonder those voters overwhelmingly rejected him yesterday).

  • Electing a policy lightweight that refused to talk about "details" until after he was elected. In the mean time he provided us with talking points and slogans. He, along with the help of his corporate soul mates,were able to buy a seat on the U.S. Senate. This clown may have bought an election but he will never be able to "replace" Russ Feingold.

  • The collective amnesia that we have had as a nation in forgetting which party brought this historic recession on us. The record already reflects that for the last 2 years we have been (too slowly) heading in the right direction. Yet voters chose to elect people that want to implement the very same policies that brought us to economic disaster.

  • OK we are all rightfully outraged but now what? I think that the only acceptable solution is to start channeling this outrage into strategic and aggressive action. There are certainly behind-the-scenes and less predictable actions that can take place long before any of this extreme bunch ever takes the oath of office. Then after taking office they will provide us with a plethora of opportunities. If recent history teaches us anything, we already know that this crowd is incapable of effectively governing (at least if they actually keep all of the fanciful campaign season promises that they have made). Scott Walker no longer can pass the buck. He will have a Republican majority in the legislature and no Milwaukee County Board to blame. Republicans both in Wisconsin and nationally are bound to overreach very early and we should be prepared to take advantage of it.

    Channel your outrage now to prepare for effective action later.

    Monday, November 01, 2010

    Facts to Know and/or Remember on Election Day

    Here are a few important questions/answers that have been posted for several days at Daily Kos. If you don't like the answers, check the sources. Vote based on reality not on the flawed narrative.


    1. What was the average monthly private sector job growth in 2008, the final year of the Bush presidency, and what has it been so far in 2010?

    2. What was the Federal deficit for the last fiscal year of the Bush presidency, and what was it for the first full fiscal year of the Obama presidency?

    3. What was the stock market at on the last day of the Bush presidency? What is it at today?

    4. Which party's candidate for speaker campaigned this weekend with a Nazi reenactor who dressed up in a SS uniform?


    1. In 2008, we lost an average of 317,250 private sector jobs per month. In 2010, we have gained an average of 95,888 private sector jobs per month. (Source) That's a difference of nearly five million jobs between Bush's last year in office and President Obama's second year.

    2. In FY2009, which began on September 1, 2008 and represents the Bush Administration's final budget, the budget deficit was $1.416 trillion. In FY2010, the first budget of the Obama Administration, the budget deficit was $1.291 trillion, a decline of $125 billion. (Source) Yes, that means President Obama has cut the deficit -- there's a long way to go, but we're in better shape now than we were under Bush and the GOP.

    3. On Bush's final day in office, the Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P 500 closed at 7,949, 1,440, and 805, respectively. Today, as of 10:15AM Pacific, they are at 11,108, 2,512, and 1,183. That means since President Obama took office, the Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P 500 have increased 40%, 74%, and 47%, respectively.

    4. The Republican Party, whose candidate for speaker, John Boehner, campaigned with Nazi re-enactor Rich Iott this weekend. If you need an explanation why this is offensive, you are a lost cause.

    Even if you don't want to be bothered with the actual facts, the choice is still clear if you simply have a memory: