A staple of Wisconsin life these days is tuning on the evening news and seeing Governor Scott Walker in safety glasses, touring yet another manufacturing plant. “Manufacturing is the backbone of Wisconsin’s economy,” he’ll say, and tell you growing manufacturing is his top priority.
On October 9, Walker was introduced at an event hosted by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce as the “architect of [Wisconsin’s] transformation.”
“I’m proud of the fact that we have turned things around, that we’re headed in the right direction,” Walker told the friendly crowd, before pivoting to say that if his opponent, state school superintendent Tony Evers, is elected, manufacturing would suffer, “taking out a lot of the growth and prosperity in this state.”
Not so fast, mister.
According to the “gold standard” of job metrics, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, since Walker was elected in 2011, Wisconsin has lost 150 manufacturing establishments, at a time when most other states added them.
Not so fast, mister.
In fact, only eleven states have lost more manufacturers than Wisconsin.
Our neighbor to the west, Minnesota—which recently surpassed Wisconsin in total jobs for the first time ever—has added 394 manufacturing establishments. Our neighbor to the east, Michigan, has added 2,290.
What about the manufacturing job growth that Walker likes to crow about? That only looks good out of context. It’s like when he says that “more people are working in Wisconsin now than ever before.” It sounds great, but it’s a claim that literally every post WWII Wisconsin governor could have made at some point in his term. (It’s caused by this strange phenomenon known as population growth.) Similarly, most states have added manufacturing jobs, the relevant point is how does this rate of growth stack up to the rest of the country?
While Walker often cherry picks data from various sources to muddy the waters, during his tenure as governor, Wisconsin has been solidly middle of the pack, ranking 24th in job growth in the manufacturing sector. But when Walker took office, in 2011,Wisconsin ranked seventh, between Michigan (#1) and Minnesota (#12). Wisconsin now trails both states in this category.
And it’s not just manufacturing growth that lags. Wisconsin’s overall job growth under Walker places it 32nd in the country, again trailing neighbors Minnesota (22nd) and Michigan (15th).
Walker often cherry picks data from various sources to muddy the waters, but basically, when it comes to generating new manufacturing jobs and businesses, Wisconsin ain’t happenin’.
Walker made a big splash by luring Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn to Wisconsin, lavishing some $4.5 billion in subsidies for it to build a massive LCD manufacturing screen plant which he says will bring some 13,000 jobs to the state. But given the cost of those jobs (about $350,000 per), it seems important to ask, instead of transplanting a giant (and very expensive) sequoia from afar, why not try to encourage local seedlings that might one day grow big?
Legendary Wisconsin companies such as Trek, Epic Systems, and Harley Davidson all started out as seedlings that grew into the giants they are today.
But in start-up entrepreneurial activity, Scott Walker’s top-down approach placed Wisconsin dead last for three years in a row.
Walker campaigns as if these facts simply don’t exist. Things may be better economically than when he took office in the midst of the Great Recession, but in Walker World, the economy was only bad in Wisconsin, and was the doing of former Democratic governor Jim Doyle. George Bush? Walker’s apparently never heard of him.
Under Democratic governor Mark Dayton, Minnesota has pummelled Wisconsin in every economic category imaginable. Walker’s gubernatorial challenger Tony Evers is reading largely from the Dayton playbook. But Walker insists that having a Democrat in the governor’s mansion will lead to “record job loss” and will be tantamount to the state doing a U-turn.
Considering that Wisconsin is last in start-up activity, and has lost 150 manufacturing plants under Walker, maybe a U-turn is exactly what we need.