Evers diversity

Gov. Tony Evers speaks at the Madison Region Economic Development & Diversity Summit Friday. 

Cultivating a diverse workforce is key to taking Wisconsin to a new level of economic prosperity, Gov. Tony Evers told a group of community leaders, education professionals, business leaders, entrepreneurs and others on Friday.

“I can tell you that if this state doesn’t actively and proactively and with great vigor embrace diversity and inclusivity, economic development will grind to a halt,” the Democrat said at the sixth annual Madison Region Economic Development & Diversity Summit at Monona Terrace, a gathering sponsored by the Madison Region Economic Partnership and the Urban League of Greater Madison.

Introduced as “the first governor to attend this event, but not the first we’ve asked to attend,” Evers told about 600 attendees about the importance of cultivating a diverse workforce.

He also pitched his budget, which centers on accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid, a provision that Republican majorities in the Senate and Assembly have stripped from the spending plan.

He said accepting the federal money, which his predecessor Republican Gov. Scott Walker rejected, would bring $114 million into the MadREP region, a geographical area that includes Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Rock and Sauk counties.

That money wouldn’t just provide Medicaid coverage, he said, but also go into programs that would support well-being, including addressing the well-documented gap in birth outcomes for black mothers.

“We do have a large issue in this state relative to health outcomes for moms of color and kids of color,” he said. “Let’s take it on. It is an economic development issue.”

He said his travels around the state have cemented the notion that healthcare is one of the most pressing state issues, and that Medicaid expansion would go far in addressing it.

One group of young entrepreneurs from across the state, he said, cited the lack of affordable health care insurance as their greatest obstacle to success.

But job security was also high on the list of concerns, and repairing roads and issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented workers — an initiative also opposed by Republican lawmakers — are ways to make sure people can get to work, he said.

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He said he recently met with local leaders in Abbotsford, a community of 2,100 that has in recent decades attracted a growing Hispanic population. The top concerns: driver’s licenses for undocumented workers and in-state tuition for undocumented children who attended Wisconsin high schools.

“How about in-state tuition for the young people who go through our rigorous high schools,” he said, getting the biggest applause of the talk.

Evers said he’s recently been raising money for the Democratic National Convention next year, slated for Milwaukee after a competitive selection process. Even while acknowledging all the ways in which Wisconsin falls short — the state has some of the nation’s largest racial gaps in earning, education and criminal justice outcomes — he said the convention can help change the state’s reputation.

“People are stepping to the plate for one reason,” he said. “It’s our one opportunity to show the rest of this country and the world that Wisconsin is a place that embraces diversity and inclusivity and young people.”

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.