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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Will Wisconsin's emerging technologies survive under Walker?

From an article by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

When President Obama toured the state last week, he visited two companies in Manitowoc to promote Wisconsin's high-tech, clean-energy economy.

First, the president stopped at Tower Tech Systems, which manufactures utility-scale wind towers. Then he toured Orion Energy Systems, which makes high-efficiency lighting and solar-focused products.

"These aren't just good jobs that can help you pay the bills and support your families," the president told some 200 workers at Orion. "They're jobs that are good for all of us; that will make our energy bills cheaper; that will make our planet safer; that will sharpen America's competitive edge in the world."

But some are wondering whether Gov. Scott Walker, despite his "open for business" mantra, and the new Legislature share the same enthusiasm for emerging technologies and the promise of high-paying jobs.

During his first month in office, Walker has proposed strict rules that could hamper the wind power industry, nixed the Charter Street Biomass Project on the UW-Madison campus and returned more than $800 million in federal money for upgrading Wisconsin's passenger and freight rail infrastructure. There's also talk about limiting embryonic stem cell research, an issue that's more symbolic than substantive.

Put together, it's not exactly what economic development advocates were hoping to see from a governor who's vowed to create 250,000 new private sector jobs.

"I don't want to get in trouble here ... but there's some hand-wringing among our members," says Bryan Renk, who heads BioForward, a trade association for the state's bioscience and biofuel industry.

Both Gov. Tommy Thompson and Gov. Jim Doyle were big supporters of emerging technologies. Doyle in particular backed clean-energy initiatives and pushed a sweeping renewable energy bill in his last term that eventually died in the Legislature.

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