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In the last month, chamber of commerce and economic development agency boards across the state, representing more than 7,300 Wisconsin businesses, got behind the Wisconsin Idea Partnership.

Support for the UW System proposal continues to spread across the state, in part propelled by the growing list of endorsements from Wisconsin’s business community. Within the last two weeks, Chambers of Commerce representing hundreds of Green Bay, Fox Cities and Eau Claire businesses supported resolutions endorsing the Wisconsin Idea Partnership.

The 1,140-member Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce’s April 19 resolution whole-heartedly backs the proposal and spotlights its alteration of “existing bidding and contract systems to enable local, responsive and campus-based approaches that will benefit local businesses by delegating managerial authority to the campus level.” The resolution also notes the proposal’s spread of “creative, innovative, and cost-saving measures on each and every campus that will result in higher employment, more resources recirculating in the area and more of the highly qualified graduates UWEC provides for our state’s benefit…”

“The Wisconsin Idea Partnership features for-now and forever promise for the UW System and entire state,” University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells said. “It fairly distributes the transformative flexibilities all UW System schools need to help meet the current budgetary challenge. But it also will improve forward-looking operational decision-making powers at each UW System campus, college and Extension office. It is encouraging to see the business community’s growing support for this package of changes that are essential to closing our current budget shortfalls and enhancing our unified system’s future success.”

The Wisconsin Idea Partnership would preserve a unified UW System but give each four-year campus, two-year college and UW Extension branch new operational flexibilities to help them better streamline hiring practices, curtail energy bills, manage construction budgets and procure supplies and services from a more inclusive and competitive list of vendors.

The proposal is the alternative to the New Badger Partnership, which, as included in Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget, splits off UW Madison from the UW System and grants that campus alone public authority status and the many management flexibilities that go along with it.

The Wisconsin Idea Partnership flexibilities are essential to helping the entire UW System, including UW-Madison, close a current, two-year, $250 million budget shortfall and operate even more efficiently into the future. UW Oshkosh’s share of the UW System shortfall is $9.8 million, with campus employees sacrificing an additional $5 million through mandated compensation reductions addressing the state’s $3.6 billion deficit.

Beyond addressing the current budget challenges, the Wisconsin Idea Partnership would provide long-lasting benefits to state campuses and state commerce. It would eliminate the red tape and bureaucratic obstacles currently preventing many local Wisconsin businesses from even competing for university business. That also provides advantage for UW System institutions. UW Oshkosh administrators estimate greater competition among a more inclusive list of vendors would help generate savings — at least 5 percent, or $500,000 a year, on supplies, equipment and materials necessary to operate a campus of 13,600 students and 1,700 employees.

Many local storefronts and companies just down the street from or in an industrial park neighboring a UW System campus, college or extension branch – businesses with potentially lower-cost, high-quality products and services – find the process to even qualify for the right to compete as campus vendors too daunting. Elimination of the barriers has been a common highlight in the growing number of resolutions chambers of commerce and economic development collectives are endorsing around the state.

The nearly 1,800-member Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s  April 20 board resolution supporting the Wisconsin Idea Partnership emphasizes “that management and operational flexibility is a crucial first-step toward reinvigorating our state’s Economy” and “that changes will enable local businesses to compete for opportunities to serve the needs of UW System institutions throughout the state…”

The list of additional chambers of commerce and economic development agency boards that have taken positions on and/or supported the Wisconsin Idea Partnership since April 1 includes:

  • The 1,200-member Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, which approved a resolution April 28.
  • The more-than 820-member Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, which endorsed a resolution on April 26 calling for a special state legislative task force, including private sector experts, to study the spread of Wisconsin Partnership Idea flexibilities throughout the UW System.
  • The board for Momentum West, the regional economic development organization that serves northwestern Wisconsin counties enveloping UW Stout, UW Eau Claire, and UW River Falls. It unanimously passed a resolution in support on April 18.
  • Centergy, the Central Wisconsin Alliance for Economic Development, representing the counties of Lincoln, Marathon, Wood, Portage, and Adams, which sent an April 14 letter to members of the state legislature’s Joint Finance Committee urging support for the Wisconsin Idea Partnership.
  • The 280-member Grafton Area Chamber of Commerce board, which supported a particular provision within the Wisconsin Idea Partnership, citing Wells’ April 5 “Campus meets commerce” statement on the plan’s diffusion of procurement powers, “giving each system campus the key to open the gates of competition to local businesses.” On April 12, the Grafton chamber’s executive director wrote a letter to state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, supporting that Wisconsin Idea Partnership provision.
  • The more-than 1,100-member Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, which endorsed the plan on April 8.
  • The 1,000-member Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce board of directors, whose approval of a March 25 resolution of support started the statewide ripple effect.

A number of other community and regional chambers and economic development groups around the state are in the process of considering resolutions supportive of the Wisconsin Idea Partnership.

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