It's understandable if Gov. Scott Walker's announcement of the new CEO for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. surprised you.
That's because we were not led to believe that interim CEO Reed Hall was in the running.
Three finalists - Ralph Howard of Random Lake, Michael Jenkins of Cedarburg and Jason Jensen of Madison - were named in December after a search committee sifted through more than 100 applicants. All with business ties. All from Wisconsin. None named Reed Hall.
Walker on Tuesday said Hall, 64, impressed him and was the best candidate for the job. Hall benefited from being able to the show the WEDC board of directors he can do the job since being the interim CEO since November.
We think Walker should hire the best person for the job, even if that means going outside of the search committee's recommendations. And if Hall has the agency going in the right direction, it's hard to switch leaders.
The WEDC is the economic development agency set up by Walker to replace the Commerce Department. Former Green Bay Mayor Paul Jadin was the initial CEO, but he left last year amid reports of a lack of oversight for $56 million in loans the WEDC gave out.
In announcing the appointment, Walker cited Hall's experience at Marshfield Clinic, civic organizations and in creating jobs. "Reed brings a fresh perspective and strong leadership to the WEDC," Walker said.
That perspective and leadership will be needed as "interim" is removed from Hall's title and the Walker administration can no longer blame the recall elections for any lack of economic growth.
Hall faces the task of spurring economic development for a state that ranks 42nd in private-sector job creation, according to U.S. Department of Labor report, and is not on pace, or even close, to reach the governor's goal of 250,000 jobs created in his first term. Plus, Hall has to guide an agency that is a public-private hybrid - helping private companies create jobs and economic activity while being publicly accountable and transparent.
Many of the problems of the WEDC last year could charitably be called growing pains. The problems were "isolated to the documentation and reporting processes within WEDC's financial operations," and did not affect "functional aspects of WEDC's programs," Hall said in a Nov. 30 memo to the WEDC board of directors. "While serious, these problems are fixable."
A report by Financial Institutions Products Corp. in December examined the WEDC processes and concluded that the move to a public-private organization done in a short amount of time created some of the lapses. "The result was an incomplete infrastructure for the new organization," the report said.
The WEDC has undergone reviews by Schenck SC, FIPCO and the state Legislative Audit Bureau. These included recommendations for moving forward. Many of those recommendations are already being addressed, according to Walker.
While Hall's appointment was a surprise, the surest way to erase any questions and doubts is to improve on the WEDC template and reintroduce accountability into the money it hands out.
One of the agency's five guiding principles is to "measure and be accountable." We hope that remains the case as the WEDC moves forward.