Oct. 15--The numbers might be mixed, but the state's economic outlook is improving, according to Tom Still, the president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.
Still is optimistic that Wisconsin businesses are headed in the right direction, especially those in the broad-based technological sector.
"We're seeing more start-ups," he said Thursday on Newsmakers, Post-Crescent Media's online issues show. "We're seeing more emerging companies. We're seeing more investment. So there are things happening that still are maybe that part of the iceberg that's below the surface of the water that are encouraging to me."
Still talked about a number of issues related to the state's business health. Here's an edited transcript of the interview:
In your view, how is the state economy doing?
Better. There's still a long ways to go. And it depends a little bit on the metrics you might use. I think we're still behind on creating jobs. It's pretty clear by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics in its latest quarterly report that we're still lagging most states. I think we're coming in 34th. But I also know that Wisconsin enters recessions later and exits recessions later. So I think there could be more good news to come on the jobs front.
In terms of overall economic activity, I'm pretty encouraged by what I see. Company revenues have generally been up. Company productivity and some of the other measures of overall economic activity are looking much better.
In your sector, are there particular areas of industry or areas of the state in which you're seeing growth?
The Wisconsin Technology Council is technology agnostic -- we care about life sciences, nanotechnology, IT, advanced manufacturing. We love them all. The sectors where we're seeing the most growth would be things like medical devices, information technology -- especially health information technology, driven by all of the changes going on in health care -- and, I think this is especially important in the Fox Valley, advanced manufacturing. While manufacturing has yet to replace the lost jobs of the last decade or so, those manufacturers that are left are much more tech-savvy, much more responsive to the marketplace and much more innovation-conscious. So we're seeing a lot of development there, especially with emerging companies that might have technologies that larger manufacturing companies would want to acquire.
There was a controversy about Gov. Scott Walker touting statistics and a state ranking by the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia and then those officials came out and said that's not the right way to use those statistics. Is there a reliable metric to use?
Certainly the quarterly report from the U.S. Commerce Department'sBureau of Labor Statistics would be really reliable because it's a quarterly survey. It looks back, but it captures 95 to 96 percent of all companies. It looks back over a period of time and it tells you how many jobs there were, and it's pretty close. There are monthly BLS reports that are less accurate because they're truly like a public-opinion survey almost. They only capture maybe 4 percent of all businesses. While it's still a good sample, it's not as reliable as the full quarterly report. The problem with those is they look back. The latest BLS report covered the period that ended in March of this year. March of 2013 is still a ways back in terms of economic activity.
There are a variety of things that look ahead and forecast what that might mean for jobs. I think that's what the Federal Reserve report out of Philadelphia was aiming at. But it is just that. It's a forecast. So it's important to know the difference between that hard count and a forecast that could be off.
What are you hearing from state businesses about how the partial government shutdown is affecting them?
Some are getting nervous. Let's say, for example, you're a start-up company and you've been part of a project that wins a competitive small-business innovation research grant. It's a federal science and tech-based grant aimed at companies they think have a lot of potential for growth. Maybe you're in a process now where the applications you filed are not being reviewed. Or that even if you won the grant, it's not being paid. I think there are supply-chain issues. The federal government buys a lot of stuff. In essence, it's a little like if Wal-Mart quit buying for a while and it's a shutdown of that magnitude.
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