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Ending Minnesota JOBZ may be good news for Wisconsin

Since 2004, the Minnesota JOBZ program has provided tax incentives to businesses to relocate or start up in rural Minnesota.

The program also made it more difficult for Wisconsin to lure those businesses across the border.

"It's been a harder sell for us to be successful in recruiting companies from Minnesota," said Bill Rubin, president of the St. Croix Economic Development Corp.

But last week the Minnesota state Senate voted to kill the JOBZ program and there is movement in the Minnesota House to do the same.

Rubin said that Wisconsin could benefit if the JOBZ program is eliminated.

"It would perhaps put both states on a more level playing field," Rubin said.

He added that because of lower property and corporate taxes, and a better regulatory climate Wisconsin might even have an edge.

"The cost of doing business here is less," Rubin said.

One big benefit of the JOBZ program was the property tax abatement, according to Andy Lisak, executive director of the Development Association in Superior and Douglas County.

Lisak says that business property taxes are 30-50 percent lower in Wisconsin than in comparable areas of Minnesota.

"The effectiveness of JOBZ has varied from community to community," said Lisak.

The JOBZ program also offers tax abatements for state sales and corporate income tax.

"It's going to be interesting," he added.

Rubin says that Wisconsin could become more competitive if there was a pool of tax incentives that could be used to bring companies here.

"If there's a pool of dollars, that would tip the scales in Wisconsin's favor," Rubin said.

He suggested that the pool would be limited to recruiting companies that are not already in the state.

However the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce doesn't see a need for the pool of money.

Jack L. Fisher says that before becoming Department of Commerce secretary he worked for 33 years helping businesses relocate, and that tax incentives were only one of many items companies look at when they choose a new location.

"In every case companies had a long list of criteria of what was important to them with weight given to each criteria," said Fisher.

"A very small percentage was assigned to tax incentives," Fisher said.

He noted that companies look for a broad range of items such as available workforce, infrastructure and higher education.

"Wisconsin rates very high in our workforce, health care, infrastructure and we have a world-class university system," Fisher said.

Lisak agreed that companies look at a variety of items.

"Incentives are just one of many items a company looks at, it's not just tax incentives," Lisak said.

There is some money available for incentives though.

According to Rep. Kitty Rhoades, recent legislation allows the technology and agricultural zone programs to utilize unused tax credits from other development zones in the state.

"During these tough economic times, making these unused credits available will help to stimulate and encourage economic development in local communities," Rhoades said.

The technology zone follows the Interstate 94 corridor and includes St. Croix, Polk, Pierce, Chippewa, Dunn and Eau Claire counties.

Contact Brady Bautch at