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In the News: Staff Columns

Foxconn Schmoxconn: Don’t forget dairy

Wednesday, September 27, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Holevoet, director of government affairs
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Foxconn is coming to Wisconsin, and we are rolling out the red carpet. The state created a multi-billion-dollar tax incentives package. Political and business leaders alike are transfixed by the news that the Taiwanese tech manufacturer will be building a new plant in southeastern Wisconsin.

This is not an article bashing Foxconn. Like many others in the state, I was glad to hear the news that the company will be building here and bringing thousands of jobs to the state.

The fiscally conservative part of me struggles when I hear about the amount of money that will be spent to entice the corporation to build here, but that is the name of the game.

If we don’t offer those type of incentives, another state will. I ultimately hope  we get those jobs and we realize a good return on our investment.   

It is exciting to think of a new industry taking root here, resulting in billions of dollars in investment. At the same time, it is important we do not forget our current economic powerhouses, including a dairy community that generates tens of billions of dollars’ worth of economic activity each year. We help to employ tens of thousands. Ours is an industry in which Wisconsin leads the world. 

I am not proposing a $3 billion tax incentive package for dairy farms, but we could use some help. The number of Wisconsin dairy farms in the state dropped below 9,000 in August. Wisconsin dairy farmers are increasingly looking outside our state for growth opportunities. In recent years, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by Wisconsin farm families in other states. The trend started by farmers will continue as dairy processors also look to invest in those states as they experience significant growth in dairy. 

There is no doubt that one of the primary drivers of the shift in investment is the regulatory environment in Wisconsin. It is not a question of just too many regulations. The problem is more serious. It is about the mindset of our regulatory agencies. Our farms and other businesses are often seen as negative for the state. 

Other states are actively courting our dairy farmers. It is not that these states do not have regulations or care about their environment. They just see farms and businesses as valuable community members and partners in environmental stewardship. Sadly, this is not how we generally approach things in Wisconsin. 

At the end of August, I testified on DBA’s behalf at a hearing on SB 295. My colleague, Aaron Stauffacher, testified at the hearing on the companion Assembly bill, AB 384, in September. This piece of legislation, which is authored by Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Jim Steineke, would require the reauthorization of administrative rules every seven years. This type of periodic review is done in many other states. It is meant to ensure that rules are up to date and as streamlined as possible. DBA favors this bill. It is step in the right direction, but it is just one small step. 

A dramatic reimagining of how we regulate in this state is in order, although we may lack the political will to get it done. The focus should not be about more or fewer rules. It should be about creating a more effective, meaningful and fair system of regulation. Farmers want to protect the environment. Our current regulations get bogged down in process and are not focused on the positive outcomes we all want. 

I hope the shiny new factory in southeastern Wisconsin produces thousands of jobs at Foxconn and many thousands of others at supporting companies. At the same time, I know we can continue being a global leader in dairy farming and processing. We can stop the exodus of dairy investment from our state. If Wisconsin is on an even playing field with other locations, we will consistently convince farmers to invest here. No other incentives necessary.


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