In July, I wrote a blog about developers in the private sector complaining that Milwaukee County government had failed to fill its long-vacant position of director of economic development.
County government has played virtually no role in the attraction of economic development and jobs in recent years.
The county also has been the slowest among the local government players at the table to embrace the aerotropolis concept of development around General Mitchell International Airport. The county-owned land in the former Park East Corridor still stands vacant.
By contrast, the City of Milwaukee government has been the driving force in bringing companies and jobs to the Menomonee Valley, the 30th Street corridor, the former Tower Automotive site and other developments, including the Manpower Inc. headquarters in Downtown Milwaukee.
Meanwhile, the county's economic development director position has been vacant since October of 2008, when the county's previous director of economic and community development, Robert Dennik, left the job to become a vice president for Pewaukee-based VJS Construction Services.
County Supervisor Johnny Thomas blamed the length of the vacancy and the lack of economic development vision on Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. Thomas Nardelli, Walker's chief of staff, said the length of the vacancy is the county board's fault.
Regardless, here's the update. BizTimes learned today that Walker has appointed Damon Dorsey as the interim director of economic development for Milwaukee County and is seeking approval from the Milwaukee County Board to permanently hire Dorsey for the post.
"A panel reviewed applications and recommended Damon Dorsey to me," Walker said in a statement today. "He has a good background on economic development and on work throughout Milwaukee County."
Dorsey has been the interim economic development director for the county since late August.
But here's the kicker to this story. Dorsey previously served as urban and regional planner for high-speed rail for the state Department of Transportation, according to his LinkedIn page, which indicates he held the DOT post this year from March until August.
However, the copy of Dorsey's resume submitted to the county board and Walker's letter to the board about Dorsey's appointment only refer to him as a regional planner for the DOT.
Let's bottom-line this story: Walker, who is campaigning as the Republican nominee to be the next governor and is vowing to stop the federal high-speed rail project if elected, is asking the county board to approve the appointment of a former high-speed rail planner in Gov. Jim Doyle's administration to be the county's next director of economic development.
"I think it's a sign that (Walker) has checked out, and it's a fight they don't want to have," said Supervisor Theodore Lipscomb, who is the vice chair of the board's Economic and Community Development Committee. "I'll be very happy to finally have someone who I can call on in economic development. I've been very disappointed by how long it has taken (to fill the job)."
Dorsey could not be reached for comment this morning. A county board receptionist said Dorsey does not have a county government phone number yet. Keep in mind, the guy has been on the job since August, and he does not have a phone.
The County Board's Economic and Community Development Committee will consider Dorsey's appointment at its meeting on Monday.
Dorsey has some experience in real estate development in the inner city of Milwaukee. From 2000 to 2006, he was the president of North Avenue Development Corp.
When asked if he thinks Dorsey is qualified for the job, Lipscomb said it will be up to Dorsey to create a role for the economic development director job, since it has been vacant for so long.
"You have to make it into something, because it hasn't been done," Lipscomb said. "He's got a lot to prove, and he's eager to do that. He's extremely passionate about economic development and job creation."
This story provides an illustrative insight into the differences in the governing philosophies of Walker and his Democratic opponent for governor, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Whenever possible, Walker has taken a minimalist position of government advocacy and involvement. He has tried to diminish the size and the reach of the county government. He has tried to privatize much of county government. Walker believes the private sector is best left alone.
By contrast, Barrett has used city government and his Commissioner of City Development Richard "Rocky" Marcoux as economic development catalysts to spur private sector development. In Barrett's view, government can provide legitimate functions that serve the greater well-being of the citizenry, including economic development.
Both models have merits. And both can have shortcomings. Voters will have a clear choice on Nov. 2.
- Steve Jagler is the executive editor of Biz Times Milwaukee (biztimes.com).
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