Q: As the state's governor, you have pursued some bold yet controversial reforms, such as the change to union laws. What impact do you feel the reforms have had on the business environment and therefore your ability to attract businesses to Wisconsin?
A: It has been really positive for us. Back at the beginning of 2010, we had an unemployment rate that was 9.2%, now it is down to 5%. In fact, this past November we had the best month for private sector job creation since 1990, so really remarkable. What it has done is make us more competitive.
Our pensions are fully funded – the only [state] in the country where this is the case – and our bond rating is positive. It has allowed us to put in place reforms that not only lowered our tax burden by $2bn, particularly in areas such as manufacturing and agriculture, but it has also put us overall in a very stable position at both state and local levels.
What we hear from people investing anywhere, but particularly those from overseas, is they not only want a friendly business climate, they want stability from the government, and this allows us to be stable.
Q: Here on your visit to London, you have spoken a lot about skills and the Wisconsin workforce. What are you doing to make sure the workforce meets the needs of companies, both foreign and domestic?
A: It is the number one issue we hear from existing companies, from companies that want to come and from investors from around the world. It has been affirmed that this is not just a Wisconsin issue or a mid-western issue, it is a global issue.
Increasingly employers and investors are looking to be in places where they have confidence [that they can find the employees they need], not just for the day but for the future. So that is why we invest in our public colleges and universities, we invest in our technical colleges – which are our community colleges – and why we also put more [investment] on top of that to fund customised worker training, to put in place more aggressive apprenticeships and to target specific programmes within our technical colleges from advanced manufacturing, IT and healthcare to transportation and construction, and even some advanced courses in accounting and finance.
Because those are all areas of high demand and high growth in our state, we want make sure that we can fill those positions. We figure there is a place for everyone and that we can plug in to those jobs. We just have put our money where our mouth is. Now, some people call it workforce development or career development, we call it economic development.
Q: What is your economic outlook for this year? What are you expecting in terms of growth?
A: It is very positive. For the numbers from December 2013 to December 2014, we saw the best private sector job creation we’ve seen since the late 1990s and, as I mentioned, for one month the best since 1990. So we think that is accelerating growth and if you put together the stability that we have, you improve the business climate, you lower the tax burden, you put in place a reasonable regulatory and litigation climate...
Those are all good but I think equally [important], if not more important, is what we are doing to partner with employers. We have a steady workforce that provides assistance at all ranges, from post-high school to college to postgraduate level, and we make sure that we also have a good, strong infrastructure when it comes to transportation, healthcare and affordable power. All those things come together to make for a good economy.