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Gov. Scott Walker is shown taking questions from an audience assembled in an airplane hangar early Monday at the Osceola Airport. Pictured directly in front of Walker is Paul Mayer, a volunteer who spearheads economic development efforts for the greater New Richmond area. (Photo provided by St. Croix County EDC)

Stealth visit by Walker, cabinet members targeted Minnesota businesses

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Stealth visit by Walker, cabinet members targeted Minnesota businesses
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

At an unannounced event, apparently aimed at wooing Minnesota firms without causing a border war, Gov. Scott Walker and several cabinet members swooped into Osceola early Monday and extolled the benefits of doing business in Wisconsin.


The by-invitation-only breakfast hosted by Custom Fire Apparatus owner Jim Kirvida inside his aircraft hangar, drew about 175 people, according to a press release issued by Bill Rubin, executive director of the St. Croix Economic Development Corp.

The event was planned by the Greater St. Croix Valley Partnership, a collaboration of county EDCs from Polk, St. Croix, Pierce and Dunn counties, said Rubin, who introduced Walker.

Walker and cabinet secretaries presented information on the changes that have been put in place with Wisconsin’s tax structure, regulatory reforms and workforce development initiatives to make Wisconsin a great place to do business.

Rubin downplayed the privacy of the event, saying, "We tried to get some folks over who we've been talking to".

Press releases issued by Walker's office Sunday announced plans to visit LaCrosse and Wisconsin Rapids but didn't suggest the Osceola visit.

The forum was similar to events held earlier this year at Pleasant Prairie -- a town south of Kenosha just north of the Illinois border -- and Green Bay.

Joining Walker in Osceola Monday were Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch; Reed Hall, CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC); Secretary Rick Chandler from the Department of Revenue; Secretary Reggie Newson, Department of the Department of Workforce Development; and Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp.

Also present was S. Mark Tyler, founder and president of Woodville-based OEM Fabricators and a member of the Wisconsin Technical College System Board. Only last week, Tyler shared a stage with Walker as he addressed some 400 members of the Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce at Madison's Monona Terrace convention center.

Randi Smith, publisher at the Osceola Sun community newspaper, said she heard about the event several weeks ago from her boss, who owns Press Publications at White Bear Lake, Minn. He was told that a number of Minnesota businesses had received invitations.

On Sept. 24, the Associated Press reported that Walker told the Wisconsin Counties Association at its annual meeting that he planned to hold a meeting in St. Croix County for Minnesota companies to come here what the state has to offer.

Smith, who lives near the airport, said at least three airplanes arrived early Monday delivering guests who attended the event. She didn't know which planes were state-owned or corporate aircraft.

Smith went to the hangar entrance and identified herself as a member of the press, but she was politely turned away and was asked by the Osceola police chief to leave the property.

Following the presentations, Walker fielded questions from the audience before departing to another appointment across the state.

Only a week ago, Revenue Secretary Richard Chandler was in Minneapolis, attending a forum at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute that addressed the tax reciprocity issue between Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Friday's Star-Tribune newspaper carried an opinion piece by Chandler that urged “businesses and individuals in Minnesota (to) look at Wisconsin. They’ll find a great quality of life with a more competitive tax system.

“Wisconsin and Minnesota are part of one region. Both states have a great quality of life, outstanding workers and excellent education systems. We both have great recreational opportunities, and we both do well on health indicators, poverty rate indicators and environmental quality. At the same time, both states historically have had high taxes,” Chandler wrote, concluding with a tagline Walker has used repeatedly – “Wisconsin is open for business.”

Steve Dzubay
Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer since 1995. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.
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