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Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010

Issue of the Week: Business Groups That Harm Business Development

Plus Hero and Jerk of the Week

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If there was any doubt that Milwaukee’s major business group is more concerned with promoting a right-wing political agenda than encouraging business development, look no further than the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s (MMAC) non-position on high-speed rail.

A purely pro-business organization would be thrilled that Wisconsin won an $810 million federal grant for improving its infrastructure—especially since most of the money would be spent in this region on private corporations that would be designing and building the rail link. We all applaud when the Oshkosh Corp., for example, wins a major federal contract to build trucks because, like this $810 million grant, it will create well-paying jobs in Wisconsin. A purely pro-business group would also be proud that a Spanish train firm decided to locate its U.S. headquarters in Milwaukee and manufacture high-speed trains for our entire country. (Perhaps that’s why MMAC and its regional arm, the M7, helped the governor and mayor attract Talgo to Milwaukee. M7 is still promoting the Talgo deal as a “win for the region” on its website.) A pro-business development group would promote the Talgo coup and its successful public-private partnership to attract even more businesses to the city, especially those businesses that would supply Talgo with components.

But MMAC isn’t a purely pro-business group, which is why it has gone silent on high-speed rail. Its president, Tim Sheehy, wouldn’t return our call for the organization’s official position on high-speed rail, and the group isn’t doing anything to keep the project alive in the face of Gov.-elect Scott Walker’s death threats for the project. Neither is Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s business lobbying group, despite the fact that a number of local chambers of commerce enthusiastically support the project, seeing it as both creating necessary infrastructure for the 21st century and creating thousands of jobs right now.

But, again, the MMAC, M7 and WMC aren’t purely pro-business groups. They’re political operations that spend much of their energy supporting conservative politicians who promise to cut taxes for the wealthy and deregulate industries at the expense of their employees' health and safety and the environment. So they’re "staying out of the high-speed rail controversy" while at the same time continuing to claim that they support business development. It is little wonder that Milwaukee's economy is not growing as robustly as cities with more forward-looking business associations.

Perhaps the best solution to this problem is a business solution: more competition. Milwaukee needs another business organization, a "truly pro-business" organization that would provide the necessary competition to the MMAC monopoly and make the MMAC more responsive to the needs of the vast majority of struggling businesses in Milwaukee that would love to provide the goods and services to the thousands of new hires that would result if we go forward with high-speed rail.

Hero of the Week

PACA Student Volunteers

After incorporating in 2003 and receiving an initial grant from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the nonprofit Pan African Community Association (PACA) got straight to its mission: helping African refugees and immigrants integrate into American society, educating them on their rights and responsibilities as integral members of the community.

Run largely through volunteer effort, PACA provides services that facilitate access to jobs, housing, transportation, medical care, education and family support. PACA’s Keania Nwambo singled out three full-time students who give generously of their time: Aaron Franczek of Cardinal Stritch University, and Christina Lee and Hannah Leahy, both of Marquette University. The trio assists newly arrived immigrants and refugees with after-school programs, job-placement assistance and computer skills.

PACA is always looking for volunteers to help its mission, as well as donations of used household items and clothing. To donate items, stop by the offices (6222 W. Capitol Drive) from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 414-442-5864 or visit www.panafricoma.org.

Jerks of the Week

Pro-Life Wisconsin

Instead of committing to a rational discussion about how to reduce unwanted pregnancies among African-American women, the radical anti-contraception, anti-abortion group Pro-Life Wisconsin (PLW) has chosen instead to sponsor 13 billboards in Milwaukee and a website chock full of misleading information. PLW’s campaign urges black women to consider adoption instead of abortion. That’s fine. But they fail to promote contraception and comprehensive sex education as additional ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies. PLW also perpetuates myths circulating among the pro-life crowd about Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s alleged racism and the “continuing eugenics movement in Wisconsin.” For the record, Sanger promoted contraceptives, not abortion, and wanted all women—including African-American women—to be able to control their fertility. Her work in the African-American community—especially the impoverished rural South—had the support of W.E.B. Du Bois and Adam Clayton Powell Jr., among others. And Sanger vehemently opposed abortion or forced sterilization based on one’s race.

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