011619-wsj-news-evers-tech

Gov. Tony Evers, center, flanked by Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy, left, and Wisconsin Technology Council president Tom Still, greets members of the Tech Council board of directors Tuesday before addressing the group at Exact Sciences.

Economic development in Wisconsin should mean more than just counting jobs — it could also include helping companies create affordable housing for employees, Gov. Tony Evers told a business group in Madison on Tuesday.

Evers said decisions on how to use state economic development funds should be “more nimble.”

“It can be around: Do you need affordable housing? We should use economic development more in a more holistic way,” Evers said.

The governor called on business leaders to get involved so that all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties can spur their economies.

“We can’t expect to have Foxconns all across the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said.

Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn has promised to build a $10 billion manufacturing campus in southeastern Wisconsin with a $3 billion state subsidy.

Evers spoke to about 40 members of the Wisconsin Technology Council, a group that advises the governor and state Legislature about science and technology issues.

One day after announcing plans to set up a panel focused on small business startups, Evers was asked what he will do to boost startups and to encourage business growth in rural areas with aging, declining populations.

“We are investing in neighborhoods, which I think is connected,” Evers said. Expanding Medicaid through federal funding also will help, he said.

Toni Sikes, 2014-2018 chair of the Tech Council and CEO of CODAworx, a network for commissioned artwork, told Evers that Wisconsin has robust networks of small, individual investors but is “sadly behind” in providing larger investments to help young entrepreneurs take their companies beyond the startup stage. She asked him to encourage insurance companies and large corporations to invest.

Sikes said later that former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, convened such companies at the governor’s mansion early in his first term. “He accomplished so much just by bringing people together and explicitly saying, ‘Invest in these funds,’” Sikes said.

Sikes also said she was pleased to hear Evers consider the concept of economic development in a broader sense. “There’s a much bigger world view to think of beyond just the number of jobs,” she said.

About 40 members of the 54-member Wisconsin Technology Council attended the session in University Research Park, in one of Exact Sciences’ buildings. Exact Sciences, whose Cologuard stool test screens for colorectal cancer, is one of the Madison area’s fastest-growing biotechnology companies. CEO Kevin Conroy was an adviser on Evers’ transition team.

Tech Council president Tom Still said Evers’ appearance before the group is significant.

“By being there and engaging with our board members — who come from all over the state and from all sectors within technology — he was signalling that he understands the importance of the tech-based economy in Wisconsin,” Still said.

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