Between 2004 and 2009, the current governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, who was then a Milwaukee County executive, was spending his summers on motorcycle tours, aiming to generate greater attention for the region. However, the headline-grabbing moment in Mr Walker's career so far came this year, during the state's recall election caused by the dispute over collective bargaining rights of state employees.
What seemed to be a local matter gained nationwide and international following as it was seen as both a testing ground for other governors on how far they can go in fixing the budgets of their states by cutting public-sector benefits, as well as an evaluation on how much power unions currently wield in the US.
That Mr Walker collected more than $63m for his campaign, outpacing his closest rival six-fold, has also not gone unnoticed, and the suggestions appeared on the same day as his election recall win that the new rising star of the Republican party could one day swap Wisconsin’s governor mansion for the White House.
Boon for business
Mr Walker, speaking to fDi days after the election, says that for the time being he is happy to use his newly found fame to promote inward investment. “The fact that people got a better idea of who I am gives me a better platform to reach out to businesses. Just one day after the election I was on the phone with an executive who, because of the recent events, wanted to learn more about our state,” says Mr Walker.
The unions may not be the biggest fans of Mr Walker’s administration, but business certainly is. According to a survey conducted by the state's chamber of commerce at the end of 2011, as much as 94% of respondents (mainly big businesses that hold membership in the chamber) think that the state is heading in the right direction. Mr Walker is quick to point out that “in 2010 only 10% of the employers felt the same way”.
The presence of foreign ventures in Wisconsin is also on the up, as data from fDi Markets, a greenfield crossborder investment monitor, shows. In 2011, the state received a record number of 62 foreign investment projects, nearly three times more than in pre-crisis 2007. The majority of investments into the state were made in sectors connected with agriculture, such as food processing and industrial machinery, but investment into life sciences and business services also constitute a significant chunk of the new projects.
Mr Walker believes that mixing the traditional agricultural heritage of the state known as 'America’s Dairyland' with advanced research in farming and biotech is where the state’s competitive advantage lies. “We want to do what we do best, and that is focusing on agriculture-based exports and working on technologies that can increase productivity [in the agriculture sector],” he says.
Recently, during the late-August Republican National Convention, Mr Walker gathered fervent applause while talking about his ideas regarding the US economy and announcing his state’s nomination of Mitt Romney for the national presidential race. Next year, Mr Walker is planning to take business promotion trips to Europe, the Middle East, China and India. This time around, he says, it will be “all about business, not cheers”. And that motto might serve as Mr Walker’s election slogan should he ever decide to run for the US's top job.