AT&T recently announced that it will be creating a new high-tech data center in downtown Akron, Ohio. This project will pump $120 million in much-needed economic development and job creation activities into the Akron area economy.
The fact that this new facility is locating in Ohio and not Wisconsin provides a poignant lesson about opportunity costs and the real marketplace impacts of political dysfunction.
As part of its announcement, AT&T specifically cited the passage of telecommunications regulatory reform in Ohio as a significant factor in its decision. Similar legislation modernizing regulation of landline telecommunications providers was forwarded in Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, while the Ohio's Democrat governor, Democrat majority in the Ohio House of Representatives and Republican majority in the Ohio Senate worked together to pass this legislation into law, Wisconsin lawmakers let their opportunity to do likewise slip by.
As a result, when AT&T's national leadership looked at which state had a more amenable regulatory climate for jobs and investment, Ohio beat Wisconsin hands down – despite the fact that Ohio did not offer AT&T one dime of state or local tax incentives to locate the new data center there.
While technical topics like regulatory modernization may sometimes seem boring and unimportant to legislators, to companies making decisions on where to locate jobs and development, they are often deal makers or deal breakers. In a state like Wisconsin that has lost more than 55,000 jobs in the past year, the costs of legislative inaction on regulatory reform measures like these are real, and they are devastating.
Inaction cost us a chance to compete for the AT&T project and the accompanying jobs and investment it would have pumped into our economy. We must take this lesson to heart and make sure our legislators work proactively so we are positioned competitively to take advantage of similar opportunities in the future.
Steve Baas is the government affairs director of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).