The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s (WEDC’s) new proactive foreign direct investment (FDI) strategy is already moving in promising directions. One English company has visited Wisconsin and is in talks to open a facility here as a result of meetings with WEDC during a trade mission in February. Another trip focusing on FDI recently concluded, and a third is scheduled for this fall.
During these trips, WEDC staff meet with companies in targeted foreign markets, with a goal that the companies will choose to establish operations in Wisconsin or expand their current presence in the state. They also focus on retention—that is, on making sure other states’ competing attraction efforts don’t persuade foreign companies to relocate their Wisconsin operations to a different state.
With the arrival of Vice President for International Business Development Katy Sinnott in 2014, WEDC launched a bold new FDI strategy that focuses on:
- Raising awareness of Wisconsin as a prime FDI destination within the Midwest, the U.S. and North America through governor-led missions, trade shows, promotional events and networking.
- Building an FDI pipeline—connecting with trade and investment agencies, industry organizations, key industry consortia, business service providers, site selectors and FDI consultants to increase the number of incoming opportunities—then filling that pipeline with foreign-owned companies that will thrive in Wisconsin and contribute to further economic growth.
- Collaborating with regional, county and city economic development officers, industry consortia, site selectors and others to convert opportunities and bring FDI projects to Wisconsin.
“Export growth is only one part of the state’s international business development strategy,” says Sinnott. “For a robust and thriving economy that is well integrated into world markets, Wisconsin must also focus on foreign direct investment. This doesn’t just benefit the foreign companies that are investing here—over the past decade, FDI has been responsible for more than $7.8 billion in capital expenditures and the creation of more than 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin.”
All three investment missions in 2015 have been or will be led by Governor Scott Walker. The governor’s presence on the trips helps to secure high-level meetings with government and business leaders in the target markets.
In the UK in February, WEDC representatives met with eight different companies to discuss establishing operations in Wisconsin. These companies included Fords Packaging Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, Syrris Ltd. (bioscience), Frog Capital (water technology) and four others that asked not to be named due to the preliminary nature of discussions. FDI discussions typically take a considerable amount of time to come to fruition; on average, it takes 12 to 36 months from the time discussions begin until a company’s decision to invest in Wisconsin is finalized and made public. “We expect to be reporting out results from the 2015 investment attraction missions for years to come,” says Sinnott.
In addition to meetings with companies and investors, the foreign missions include activities that contribute to strengthening trade relations and raising awareness of Wisconsin as an investment destination. During the UK trip, the Wisconsin delegation hosted an event for executives on investing in Wisconsin and a breakfast for alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University. A separate networking event attracted about 100 business executives, government leaders and economic development officials. Governor Walker also gave a speech about Wisconsin’s economic strengths and UK-Wisconsin trade ties at the prestigious Chatham House think tank.
The April trade mission included travel to Germany, France and Spain, and focused on regions that are economic bright spots within Europe and whose sectors of strength match Wisconsin’s. The Wisconsin delegation attended the Hannover Messe trade show, supporting Wisconsin companies that exhibited at and attended the show, and networking and meeting with other companies in the industrial automation and machinery sectors, which are among Wisconsin’s foremost strengths. The delegation continued on to Montpellier, France, a city that has focused on building a critical mass of companies in the water and clean technology sectors—similar to the concentration that exists in Milwaukee. After productive meetings in Montpellier, the delegation moved on to Bilbao, Spain, which has long been a center of heavy industry, and thus matches up with Wisconsin’s strengths in the advanced manufacturing and energy, power and control sectors.
“We seek meetings with companies that align with Wisconsin’s sectors of strength, since these are the companies that will find Wisconsin’s business environment most advantageous in terms of supply chain, qualified labor, networking and other factors that contribute to business success,” says Sinnott. “This also means that new foreign direct investment will further strengthen Wisconsin’s existing industry clusters.”
A third FDI attraction trip will take place in September, when Governor Walker and WEDC representatives travel to Japan, China and South Korea.