Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, just one week removed from his victorious recall election, told a group of business leaders in Washington on Wednesday his state is now “open for business.”
“The biggest thing keeping [businesses] from [investing] was the recall election,” Mr. Walker said.
He was part of a bipartisan quartet of governors – also on hand were Delaware’s Jack Markell, a Democrat, and Nebraska’s Dave Heineman and Utah’s Gary Herbert, both Republicans – who took part in an economic roundtable at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 Jobs Summit.
As part of the conference, the chamber released its third annual “Enterprising States” study, which called for policies that would encourage entrepreneurship and innovation while reducing taxes and regulations.
Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the national organization, said regulations have kept companies from becoming “fast and nimble.”
“We need a smarter regulatory system,” he said.
Mr. Walker agreed.
“The reason why we’re able to be the leader of the free world is because we’re the leader of free enterprise,” he said.
The federal government needs to be more business friendly, the governors said.
“It’s an attitude,” Utah’s Mr. Herbert said. “It’s saying to the marketplace, ‘We value the entrepreneur, and we’re going to make sure we have a government that gets off your backs and out of your wallets.’”
Delaware’s Mr. Markell pointed out that companies have plenty of places to locate or relocate, including overseas, so states have to do a better job persuading them to stay in the U.S.
“Businesses have to feel wanted,” Mr. Markell said. “I think we’ve got to recognize that businesses have lots of choices, and they’ve got to feel that you will do anything you can to make them successful.”
Mr. Donohue said the country’s workforce right now simply hasn’t been trained for the available jobs. He pointed out that there are about 3.5 million openings going unfilled because employers can’t find the right talent.
To solve this problem, Mr. Donohue called for an increased focus on training: focusing on “hometown talent,” while also competing for the world’s most skilled workers.
The study also suggested tax credits for companies that hire more workers, breaks for businesses in targeted industries, and incentives for investors in startup businesses.
The study also showed that many states are identifying and targeting high-potential foreign markets and connecting with partners abroad.
In Nebraska, where the unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, the governor’s strategy for pulling the state out of the recession has been simple.
“We don’t spend money we don’t have,” Mr. Heineman said.
Mr. Walker agreed.
“It’s not just spending more,” he said, “it’s spending taxpayers’ money more wisely.”
Mr. Walker said Wisconsin is one of the few states that is handling the nation’s economic struggles well, because it has a business-friendly environment.
He pointed out that 94 percent of the employers there approve of the job the governor´s office is doing in Wisconsin, up from only 10 percent two years ago when he took office.
“I´m still scratching my head wondering about the other 6 percent,” he joked.
In Wisconsin, Mr. Walker is trying to balance the state´s budget without raising taxes, massive layoffs, or cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.
“We tried to think about the next generation, instead of just the next election,” he said.
Wisconsin exports also grew almost 12 percent last year, and unemployment is below 7 percent for the first time since 2008, Mr. Walker pointed out.
“Government can either be a barrier or it can be a partner in economic development,” he said, “and we chose to be a partner.”