No, That’s Not Why There’s an Innovation Center

Perhaps, just perhaps, Whitewater’s a laboratory for testing the theory that if one repeats a flimsy explanation long enough, it will become true.

Over at the Daily Union, there’s a recent story about a university project that’s developed a smartphone app that allows users “to link organized recreational activities with social media.” One reads that it’s a “mobile community engagement platform.” (See, UW-Whitewater professor’s app helps park, recreation programs.)

Here’s what it reportedly does:

Strive is an app that can be downloaded to cell phones for free. It works with formal, often municipality-sponsored, recreational programs such as little league baseball teams, soccer teams, dance lessons, nature walks, or any recreational activity with the participants.

Fair enough, it’s an app for the limited number of smartphone-using people who often visit municipal parks, dances, nature walks, etc., and need an additional application to schedule their visits.

University Chancellor Telfer, predictably, sees all this in the grandest terms:

UW-Whitewater Chancellor Richard Telfer said the Strive app represents what the Innovation Center is all about.

“This product is the result of UW-Whitewater faculty members, students and the community sharing their creative talents,” he said. “This is exactly the kind of collaboration we envisioned when we conceived of the technology park. Companies like Slipstream have found the Whitewater Innovation Center to be a supportive base to grow their businesses.”

No, and no again: the millions in EDA funds and millions more in municipal debt were not spent so that Chancellor Telfer could crow about a smartphone app for scheduling park visits. Here’s why the federal government really spent that money (and why the city borrowed millions more):

September 7-September 11, 2009

….$4,740,809 to the Whitewater Community Development Authority, the University of Wisconsin Whitewater, and the City of Whitewater, Wisconsin, to fund construction of the new Innovation Center and infrastructure to serve the technology industrial park, including a road linking the project with the University of Wisconsin’s Whitewater campus. The goal of the project is to create jobs to replace those lost in the floods of 2008 and those lost from recent automotive plant closures. The Innovation Center will serve as both a training center and technology business incubator and will be constructed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification standards. A portion of the project’s cost will be funded through EDA’s Global Climate Change Mitigation Incentive Fund. This investment is part of an $11,051,728 project which grantees estimate will help create 1,000 jobs and generate $60 million in private investment.

Those thousand jobs from blue-collar industry will not be replaced with money spent on white-collar welfare for smartphone-using residents.

No one needs or deserves a smartphone app created at public expense. No one. We’ve people who need food, clothing, and shelter in this very city and across Wisconsin.

Not only isn’t this the stated justification for these millions, it’s a shockingly slight justification at that.

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