Category Archives: Rotary Club of Madison Guest Speaker

Brandon: Behold the New Madison Economy!

submitted by Dave Mollenhoff; photo by Mike Engelberger

Zach Brandon 4 18 2018Zach Brandon, President of the Madison Chamber of Commerce, wants civic leaders to see a great new future for Madison.  Today’s perception is that Madison is a place of government and education and not a very good place for business.  But that is not the Madison that is evolving before our eyes, he asserted in a spirited talk.

In 1948, Life carried a cover story with a question: Is Madison the best place to live in the country?  Since then dozens of magazines have trumpeted Madison’s superlatives.  But in the last twenty years national writers have been touting a new surprising set of superlative metrics, a place that is among the top cities in the country measured in economic momentum, confidence about the future, percentage of tech workers, educational attainment, millennials in high tech positions and overall innovation.  These are the qualities of the future workforce, which we ignore at our great peril.

“How can we best nurture this exciting new future for this special city?” Brandon asked.  Only if we find better ways to recruit our future work force, he replied.   To find out how to do this, the Chamber hired Brainjuice, a London company that specializes in effective recruiting campaigns.  Their 500-person national survey produced some surprising and critically important findings.

Workers in Madison’s new economy consciously seek something special—a city where their experience is more important than possessions, a city where natural beauty abounds, a city that crackles with spirit, life of the mind, cutting edge knowledge, justice and equity.  This is the city our discerning future workers seek, Brandon emphasized.

Armed with this template, the Chamber is creating new communication tools using drones and state-of-the art video techniques to give prospective new economy workers a vivid and compelling image of the city.

What a privilege to hear this new vision!

Madison Public Market Coming in 2020

submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Mike Engelberger

Trey Sprinkman & Amanda White 4 11 2018Two Rotarians, Trey Sprinkman and Amanda White, are part of the effort to create a public market in Madison, and they reported to us today at the Alliant Energy Center. In addition, nine vendors were available prior to the meeting to provide free samples of the goods they might have available at the new market. These vendors remained after the meeting to show and sell their goods (including dog treats made from Wisconsin trout!).

The new Madison Public Market, which will be located at First Street and East Washington Avenue, seeks to replicate public markets that exist in many cities in America and elsewhere. It will open in 2020 after groundbreaking next year. The project will be financed with $8.5 million in contributions from the city, $2.5 million in tax credits, and perhaps $4 million in contributions from the community. A major fund-raising effort has been launched. When the Market is opened, it is expected that thirty-five new businesses will be launched in the first year and that the Market will attract 500,000 visitors every year, with sales of from $16 million to $20 million annually. One hundred and eighty businesses already have expressed an interest in participating.

The market will celebrate local cultures and the local economy. It will make available food that is to be found nowhere else in the city. Unlike the farmers’ markets, it will be indoors and year round. Its 30,000 square feet will become a hot place in town. It’s the “next big project” in Madison. After three years of city support, the Public Market will be self-sustaining. It will be a driver of entrepreneurial development and diversity: 83 percent of the workers will be people of color, 60 percent will be women, 33 percent will be first-generation immigrants. There will be a hybrid of old established businesses and new ones. Trey and Amanda encouraged members to join in the effort to create this Madison Public Market. Their brochure invited people to visit their website, www.madisonpublicmarket.org, to learn how they can support this “next big project.”

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Greg Reinhard on Baseball in the Midwest

submitted by Larry Larrabee; photo by Mike Engelberger

Greg Reinhard 4 4 18Greg Reinhard provided us with an entertaining and informative presentation on the current status and future prospects of baseball in Wisconsin and the Midwest.  He is a former professional player who played for the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs.  He now owns, with a business partner, the GRB Academy in Windsor.   The baseball academy develops players who seek to play at the collegiate and professional level.

Greg described how in the past, Wisconsin was more or less a backwater for baseball players in the college and professional ranks due to several factors such as climate, limited number of coaches who could develop skills, and the larger emphasis on football due to the Badgers and the Packers.  Greg, who grew up in Marinette, obviously overcame these issues but now is devoted to making a difference for youth today.  He pointed out that nationally there has been a 9% decrease in youths’ participation in all sports between 2009 and 2014.  He feels many factors contribute to this among which are declining community and school spending, distraction of technology and changing interests.

However, over the past several years, colleges and professional sports have shown increased interest in Wisconsin’s baseball players.  GRB Academy, in its short history, has worked with 191 players now on collegiate teams and 2 that were drafted out of high school into the pros.  Greg and his business partner stress that when they begin to work with a participant, they ask him and his parents, “You’re good enough to play post-high school, do you plan for a collegiate career or a pro career?”  They then work with the player toward that goal.

The presentation reflected Greg’s refreshing, balanced approach to youth and sports in their lives.

US – Mexico Trade Relationship

Julian Adem 3 21 2018A

Consul General Julian Adem with Club President Donna Hurd

Consul General Julian Adem was instrumental in opening a new consulate in Milwaukee, which brings legal and related  services to Mexicans residing in Wisconsin. Consul Adem documented how strong the U.S. – Mexico relationship has become under the current NAFTA agreement. He warned that threats to this treaty could seriously damage the economies of both countries. Mexico has built a solid framework for macroeconomic stability in the past two decades and now has a $1.2 trillion economy, making it the 15th largest world economy. The country represents a $125 million consumer market, with 60% representing the middle class. Mexico is the 10th largest world exporter and 1st in Latin America. Its total exports are $374 billion, and its total imports are $387 billion.

Regarding the U.S. – Mexico trade relationship, Mexico is the U.S.’s third-largest trading partner. Since 1994, trade between the two countries has multiplied six-fold. $1.5 billion dollars in products are bilaterally traded each day. Mexico is the U.S.’s second-largest export market with exports reaching $231 billion in 2016. U.S. imports from Mexico were $294 billion in 2016. A large industry in Mexico is auto parts, primarily for light vehicles. Most of these are American-owned companies. Mexico also manufactures electronic and electrical equipment, home appliances and flat-screen TVs. Many of the goods made in Mexico have components made in the U.S. regarding energy, Mexico exports crude oil to the U.S. and imports gasoline.

Trade between Mexico and Wisconsin has also increased dramatically since 1994. Today, exports from Wisconsin exceed imports. Dairy products are a major import from Wisconsin, as are hogs and poultry. It is estimated that 96,000 Wisconsin jobs result from products sold to Mexico. In April, negotiations will intensify to develop NAFTA 2.0. It would be beneficial if an agreement could be reached by July before a new Mexican President is installed. NAFTA 2.0 should be designed to encourage competition, provide new opportunities and strengthen the energy sector. Challenges to NAFTA are expanding benefits to all states, streamlining regional integration and opening the energy sector to more opportunities.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Reflections on Changes in Wisconsin Government

submitted by Bill Haight; photo by Donna Beestman

Todd Berry 3 7 2018.

Guest speaker Todd Berry (left) with Rotarian Steve Goldberg

Todd Berry, retired head of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, reflected on the changes he’s seen in Wisconsin government over the past 40 years.

The observable changes Berry noted are toward more short-term thinking, ideological polarization, gridlock and incivility.

The “old” was characterized by “citizen legislators,” who most likely had spent some time in business, other professions or parenting. The “new” legislator has likely selected a career path toward politics: a political science degree, internship and party activity.

Wisconsin is one of about a dozen states, and perhaps the smallest, with a full-time, professional legislature. These career politicians have a tendency to have their eye on their next election, rather than long-term strategy, bipartisan cooperation or the average voter. They are more beholden to party leaders who control committee appointments, influence allocation of special-interest campaign donations and otherwise affect the political fate of legislators.

Redistricting and Wisconsin’s primary election structure also tend to make a politician focus on special-interest voters at the expense of the average voter who likely doesn’t vote in the primary anyway. Making partisan primaries into all-candidate, cross-party primaries would be a step toward giving voters a broader, less predictable choice, said Berry.  In a recent year, fully half the legislators elected faced little or no real opposition.

In order to attract more non-career legislators, Berry threw out the “crazy” idea of tripling the size of the legislature. This would mean smaller districts, and less susceptibility to special influence funding. Technology could enable part-time legislators to communicate and vote without having to spend lengthy time in Madison, away from their constituents.

An audience member asked: Might the incoming generation of millennials resist the trend toward excessive party-boss influence? Unfortunately, noted Berry, while the average age of legislators dipped in the 70s and 80s, it has been increasing in recent years.

If you missed your meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

The Future is in the Hands of Young Women

–submitted by Linda Baldwin; photo by Mike Engelberger

Tory Miller 1 24 2018Tory Miller, Madison’s most famous chef, loves rice crispy bars, started cooking as a child in his grandparents’ café in Racine and beat Iron Chef Bobby Flay in the Iron Chef Showdown last month.  What’s next?

Miller, co-owner and chef of some of Madison’s best restaurants (L’Etoile, Graze, Estrellon and Sujeo) sees a bright future for Madison’s food scene in the hands of young chefs who have a passion for local food and a willingness to work with the community.  He notes that a national magazine naming Madison the best foodie scene in the Midwest would certainly help raise the city’s culinary profile.

Raised in Racine, Miller went off to New York to study at the French Culinary Institute.  While stumbling at first, he found his way into the kitchens of many of the country’s best chefs.  Wanting to be closer to the food producers, he came back to Wisconsin and into Odessa Piper’s L’Etoile kitchen.  And so they say, the rest is history.  A James Beard Midwest Best Chef Award winner, Miller credits Piper for showing him that all people in the kitchen, in the house and guests should be respected and treated fairly.  In the past, women and folks on the lower rungs of the kitchen were not treated well, but today these folks are now running restaurants, leading chefs and a more respected part of the community.  Miller has also been instrumental in the start up Madison Area Chef’s Network (MASN) helping the community with food needs and helping each other to be more successful in an industry where cooperation was not the norm in the past.

So, what about Iron Chef Bobby Flay?   “The meat of it”, Miller laughs, “is that Bobby Flay is not super nice. Being on the show was nerve wracking, but I was happy with the way it turned out.  I’m weird and quirky, but we always want to be the best!”

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Charlie Sykes on How the Right Lost Its Mind

–submitted by Ben Hebebrand; photo by Valerie Renk

Charlie SykesSelf-identifying as the “Benedict Arnold of conservatism,” Wisconsin conservative radio talk show host and author of several books Charlie Sykes addressed members of the Rotary Club of Madison on Jan. 3 to promote his book “How the Right Lost its Mind.”

“I left (the conservative radio talk show circuit) on my own, but I have been excommunicated from the conservative movement,” remarked Sykes, who now works for MSNBC. But Sykes was rather firm in proclaiming that “I have not changed, but the Republican Party has,” indicating that conservative values are still very much part of who he is.

While the vast majority of Sykes’ comments centered on the performance and behavior of President Donald Trump, Sykes made it clear that “I am less bothered by Trump himself, but rather the normalization of his behavior.”

Sykes identified three specific current political thought movements afoot in our country. Firstly, there are those who are “horrified by everything – both the policies and the behaviors.” Secondly, there are the MAGA Republicans, those who want to Make America Great Again; and thirdly, there are what Sykes termed as “mainstream Republicans,” who are looking the other way as regards to the President’s behavior, since his policies represent wins. “You get what you want (in terms of policies), but the price is too high,” he said.

The price is too high because one has to ignore behaviors such as name-calling, bullying, withdrawal as a world power, or classifying the media as fake news, said Sykes. But the most important litmus test on whether the price is too high is that “we have to accept the indifference on our democracy by the Russians.”

Sykes included several other items one must ignore such as the endorsement of Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, as well as the President’s erratic behavior in regards to the escalation of the potential of a nuclear war in the showdown with North Korea.

“The bottom line is that we have to realize that our political culture is more fragile than we thought,” said Sykes. We could go down the path of other democracies,” said Sykes. He characterized Trump as a cause of our current situation, but also referred to the President as “a symptom of a pre-existing condition.” While Sykes did not directly identify the pre-existing condition, he implied that it is our current tribalism that is at the root of the current political climate. Disagreement has turned to hate, he said, resulting in a “binary, polarized culture.”

In offering a glimpse of improvement to the current political landscape, Sykes offered that the current modus operandi may lead to a revitalization of democratic norms. Potentially, a coalition of Center Right and Center Left could restore the norms.

Our thanks to WisconsinEye for videotaping our meeting this week.  You can watch the video here.