Examining Outcomes from Legislative Audit Bureau’s Audit of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Posted by: Brian Doudna, Executive Director
The Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA) is a statewide non-profit organization that has been serving as the voice of economic development throughout Wisconsin for over 40 years. As such, WEDA has enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with agency leadership, the legislature and the Governor’s office as it relates to exploring and/or evaluating Wisconsin’s economic development policies and programs.
The May 2015 Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) Report represents an opportunity for reflection, constructive debate as well as strategic thinking. Within that framework, WEDA welcomes the opportunity to provide input; to offer clarity or context; and to serve as a direct resource. Therefore and from the lens of the economic development practice, provided below is a summary – as well as corresponding recommendations – from WEDA as it relates to the LAB Report.
Overall Performance Improvement
WEDC has made several notable improvements in its financial management and loan practices. WEDC loan delinquency rates have declined significantly and when compared to the national average, WEDC is outperforming its counterparts. In fact, loan write-off activities and amending loan terms are standard loan portfolio mitigation practices. Furthermore, an independent audit of WEDC’s FY 14 financial statements reported “no material weakness or significant deficiencies.”
In terms of recommended changes, WEDA offers the following suggestion to WEDC: (1) annually benchmark key indicators to measure, as well as track, loan portfolio standards among peer organizations; and (2) eliminate any origination or administrative fees associated with processing loan applications.
Favorable Customer Experience
In the face of organizational challenges, WEDC has remained focused. As referenced by the LAB, 13 of the 14 organizations surveyed (by LAB) were “satisfied” with WEDC’s responsiveness. Largely, this responsiveness is due to WEDC’s inherent operational flexibilities. Considering that business development and investment activities are not a one-size fits all approach, high-performing economic development organizations must remain nimble; thereby, accelerating the cycle time associated with developing a customized solution.
Empowering staff to think creatively and act strategically, albeit within a fiscally responsive manner, are important operational characteristics commonly found among high-performing organizations. Rewarding exceptional employee achievements in these areas is one of those hallmark qualities that create separation among employers. As a policy to keep or retain quality staff, WEDC provided merit awards. These merit awards, particularly in the context of the organization’s turnover rates, serve as an example of a forward thinking employer.
In terms of recommended changes, WEDA offers the following suggestions to WEDC: (1) continuously seek input from the customers; (2) benchmark said feedback to measure the organization’s responsiveness and related effectiveness; and (3) foster favorable employment practices that facilitate the attraction and/or retention of talented staff.
Integral to the measurement of program success and accountability, is the submission of compliance reports. Per that LAB, 94.6% of WEDC award recipient had submitted the required reports and 75% of those reports were on time or within 30 days of the contractual deadline. Given the diverse nature of WEDC’s award recipients, as well as the complexities of those projects, achieving the aforementioned benchmarks is a solid step in the right direction. In terms of recommended changes, WEDA offers the following suggestions to WEDC: (1) improve the level of project due diligence before an award is released, including but not limited to accelerating the overall applicant-to-contract cycle time; (2) use technology to enhance inter-agency communication, data/information sharing; and overall project management responsibilities; (3) streamline the compliance documentation and related logistics; and (4) review, reconcile or develop new policy language to ensure statutory compliance.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA) is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to expanding the economy of the State of Wisconsin. Founded in 1975, WEDA’s economic development professionals and active volunteers are dedicated to making Wisconsin a better place to live and work through economic advancement that focuses on retaining and expanding existing businesses; facilitating investment and entrepreneurship; and, attracting new companies, employment opportunities and innovation capital.