The Innovation Center, Virtual and Real

Every exercise in puffery about the taxpayer-funded Innovation Center is an opportunity to demonstrate how wasteful the project really is. The gentlemen behind the project would do better to say nothing about it than to hype it yet again, but that they cannot do: insisting on the grandeur of that empty effort is who they are, and what they do.

The professed goal of the project.

Whitewater’s planned Innovation Center and Tech Park rest on a multi-million dollar federal grant and millions in federally-subsidized bonds. The grant is for $4.7 million, and here is how a page from the Economic Development Administration described the purpose for those millions:

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.

Eleven-million, one-thousand jobs, sixty-million in private investment.

A ludicrious, actual use of the project.

In his Weekly Report from 8.26.11, Whitewater’s city manager announced the first — perhaps of many! — virtual tenants for this actual, eleven-million dollar taxpayer project. Millions in federal spending, and millions more in local municipal debt, but Whitewater gets

….the ability for entrepreneurs to become a virtual tenant of this facility. Virtual tenancy allows the entrepreneur to avail him/herself to University of Wisconsin-Whitewater business development services as well as mail and phone services at the Innovation Center….The Innovation Center’s first virtual tenant is…a Janesville-based entrepreneur who is developing an internet based business.

Millions of Americans unemployed, Wisconsin job growth lagging, and Whitewater with high child poverty, but eleven million for virtual tenants. They’ll be virtually joining a building that accommodates publicly-funded employees shuffled from Milton, Wisconsin.

Although I’m a critic of the New Deal, I see well enough that the New Dealers, on their worst days, were more serious and committed to the actual needs of struggling people than those touting this vain and frivolous project. (See, Whitewater’s Innovation Center from the Perspective of the New Deal.)

On both August 26th and September 2nd, Whitewater’s city manager discussed the visit of federal officials to Whitewater, to see the Innovation Center.

There was much talk about how these were ‘high ranking officials,’ and I’m sure they were. Funny, though, that all the emphasis is on the intangible (future this or that) or the exaggerated (that the building is notably environmentally-friendly in its design). No building of its kind is green; pretending otherwise is silly. The only question facing a prospective builder is whether the environmental disturbance is worth the cost.

By the way, I’m not sure what to make of an official, a high-ranking one, no less, who flew out from Washington to pour ‘effusive’ praise on the reputedly green building. Funny, too, that the city manager doesn’t see that for most Americans, effusive praise is excessive praise. This kind of praise — assuming that it was truly effusive — is out of character for most people, and wisely so. These are difficult times, and the fawning, the sugary, and the flamboyant have no place in our policy now.

About that Innovation Center story…

Finally, in the State Journal, Barry Adams has a story entitled, City, university collaborate on Whitewater Technology Park, that mostly discusses businesses that aren’t even in the Tech Park.

The story mentions existing businesses not in the Tech Park, including one that has moved into the separate Business Park, but — wait for it — one business that is at the Innovation Center that recently worked with “10 UW-Whitewater students on Java computer programming skills.”

Oddly, the story omits the names of the two publicly-funded Innovation Center tenants who take of the lion’s share of rented space.

Most of the story is about non-Park, German businesses Simonswerk and Schenck AccuRate.

The two enterprises make a nice back-of-the-book story about foreign companies, of course, but neither is a Tech Park tenant, and so neither fulfills any of the EDA’s stated incremental funding goals.

All the public relations in the world can’t rehabilitate this effort.

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