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Money for Jobs
Does economic development work? State government’s not always checking.
Saying job creation is a hot-button issue in Wisconsin is quite the understatement. We’ve trailed most other states in recovering from the Great Recession, which is about as auspicious as bringing up the rear in one of those Wisconsin State Fair pig races. In response, state officials have poured millions of tax dollars into state-run economic development programs, raising spending from about $153 million in the 2003-05 biennium to almost $227 million in the 2009-11 biennium.

But a recent audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau found a lot to be desired in how state agencies are tracking the effectiveness of these outlays. Although state law requires keeping tabs on whether, for example, spending leads to actual job creation, only about 80 percent of agencies have been doing so. One of the worst offenders was the Department of Commerce (now the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.), which has the most programs and met reporting requirements for only 40 of the 55 it administered between 2009 and 2011. The audit’s findings on program results were even less heartening: Only about 65 percent of the initiatives had achieved their goals. Another 21 percent achieved “partial results.”

Tom Thieding, spokesman for the WEDC, says the agency is building a new system to track jobs created using state dollars, and it will eventually make some related info available online. But he notes that some programs, including ones focused on community development, are “not designed to provide a quantifiable performance benchmark.”

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