Marc Eisen made an invaluable contribution to the current discussion about Wisconsin's economic climate with his Isthmus article, State of Chumps:
...I think the late Sen. Bill Proxmire — not genetics — is mostly to blame. But however you apportion responsibility, the legacy is the same: Wisconsin does wretchedly as a recipient of federal spending...
Insiders offer a matter-of-fact explanation for Wisconsin's dearth of federal spending. The state doesn't have any big military bases, so we don't get all those military salaries and big defense contracts. And those big federal regional offices wind up in Chicago and not in Milwaukee. So, of course, we don't get a lot of bucks from Uncle Sam. End of story...
Eisen is right. This story was written forty years ago; it was written thirty years ago. The insiders however, do not have to be right.
The lack of military bases does hurt our opportunities - but Bill Proxmire is dead and there are alternative sources of revenues.
For one thing we need to play to our strengths and do so aggressively. In areas of research with the entire University of Wisconsin system especially related to agriculture and genetics there are opportunities. Coordination and political as well as academic and business resources must be utilized.
In addition, the urban communities need to refocus. Despite his strong advocacy for cities, former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist rejected federal aid and even mocked cities that pursued it. That lead to his leaving the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Fortunately, present Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett brought his city back into that organization.
Other key Wisconsin cities like Madison and Green Bay are no longer members. That is unfortunate. During both of of my tenures as mayor (1973-79, 1989-1997), Madison played an active and vigorous role.
It benefited the city greatly, and some will recall the praise we often received for the significant federal dollars that came to Madison.
First, the US Conference of Mayors gets involved in the drafting of legislation - legislation with critical formulas that determine funding. Cities like Madison were critical to getting legislative support and adoption of the block grant, transit and other programs. The larger cities knew they needed Congressional support from areas like Madison, Wisconsin. Since we were equitably treated in the funding formulas, we worked vigorously for adoption.
Secondly, our contacts with the Conference were invaluable when we were looking for discretionary funding. The experience of the staff along with our own resources led to numerous successes.
I know Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewiz has reservations about some of the corporate funding sources for the organization, but I would suggest he reconsider and consult with Mayor Barrett.
Meantime, Eisen is correct about past failures, but futility in procuring federal dollars is not inevitable.