The Joint Legislative Audit Committee met on Wednesday, September 9, to discuss the findings of the Legislative Audit Bureau’s (LAB) audit of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), released in May of this year. WEDA members presented extensive testimony that hit on nearly all of the points committee members raised while questioning the LAB, WEDC, and WEDC Board members.
Senator Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) chaired the hearing and kicked it off by asking LAB if any improvements have been made since the 2006 audit. LAB responded improvements had been made, specifically in the areas of policies governing grants and loans, financial management, and data collection.
Throughout the hearing, committee members on both sides of the aisle had major concerns with WEDC and the findings of the audit report. Multiple times, members highlighted page 7 of the audit report, which provided recommendations for WEDC. Chief Legal Counsel for WEDC, Hannah Renfro, said that WEDC is interested in discussing LAB’s recommendations, but cannot wholly accept the recommendations, as some legislators on the committee encouraged. A number of committee members also admitted that some of the issues arising from WEDC’s lack of compliance could derive from the differences between how businesses operate and what statutes require.
Dan Ariens, President and CEO of Ariens Company and WEDC Board Chairman, also testified on behalf of WEDC, along with Tricia Braun, Vice President of Economic Development and Community Development. Committee members were critical of deals that have been in the news, such as BCI. Braun stated these “bad deals” all went through prior to 2013, and that systems and safeguards now in place at WEDC would prevents similar deals from occurring today.
A significant portion of the hearing was also spent hearing from Representative Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) and Senator Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point), who are two of the four legislative members of the WEDC Board. These legislators were critical of WEDC not providing them documents in a timely manner, and suggested WEDC staff keeps the Board “in the dark.”
WEDA was the only non-government entity to testify at the hearing. WEDA member’s offered feedback and suggestions relating to flexibility and accountability, WEDC’s performance, front-end customer experience, compliance and backend customer relations, proper measurements to define success, and WEDC staff retention. WEDA also offered to be a resource to WEDC and the Audit committee members going forward.
You can read WEDA’s written testimony here.