Interview: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Discusses State Branding Campaign

If you're a Republican politician in the Upper Midwest, you may appreciate what Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, has done to advance the cause of GOP politics, balanced state budgets, restraints on taxes and anti-unionism with his efforts to roll back the costs and power of public-sector unions. But for some of the same reasons, you probably aren't eager to see an aggressive "Brand Wisconsin" trying to get the companies in your state to expand or relocate in the Badger State.

Nevertheless, Walker himself is spearheading "In Wisconsin," a state branding and advertisingcampaign that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is promoting to try to lure more companies and jobs toward the Cheesehead State. The WEDC will spend $2 million this year on the campaign featuring well-known Wisconsin-based brands such as Organic Valley,Schneider NationalRockwell Automation, and Trek Bicycles, including TV spots running in Illinois and the Twin Cities as well as Wisconsin. The new platform features an image of the state with the word "in" highlighted.

"We can offer a great deal to many companies that are looking to grow," Walker toldbrandchannel. "The pitch isn't just that we've got great [relocation] incentives but that our long-term bonds are strong, our budget is balanced, and our taxes are going down."

"This would be a compelling argument to a company in Maryland or California, too," Walker added. "But if you're a company in northern Illinois, for instance, and there would be relatively low relocation costs, it's just a matter of practicality."

Walker likes to get personally involved in such economic-development matters, and his reputation as a business-oriented tax fighter — reinforced by his victory in a recall election in June — can be a potent tool in getting CEOs and business owners on the phone to entertain personal pitches that have been set up by Wisconsin economic-devleopment officials.

But the governor insists that Wisconsin would much rather help existing companies in the state expand and hire than poach enterprises from elsewhere in the region. 

"The classic mistake made by governors and mayors can be reaching out to would-be new employers and not taking care of current ones," said Walker, who was Milwaukee County Executive before becoming governor in 2008. "So my main strategy is calls and efforts made to companies already here, to help them grow."