Now's the Time

Madison must make itself a global city

We have a sort-of tradition on the television side of things up here on Raymond Road. Every other year on election night George Nelson, our esteemed vice president of Morgan Murphy Media, hosts his fellow Town and Gown members for an evening of conversation and behind-the-scenes television election returns viewing. They get a preview from our team of analysts, and they interact with our anchors and producers. But because their ranks include the likes of former UW leaders John Wiley and Katharine Lyall, business execs Tim Erdman and Bob Schlict, Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and retired newsmen Jim Burgess and Phil Blake, it’s interesting to hear their thoughts on the impact of elections on institutions they represent.

Because most of them are retired they can be rather candid—though as I think about it most of them were pretty candid before they retired. I don’t think I’ve ever had to ask Wiley or Burgess, “What do you really think?” But it’s a unique group, the century-plus old merging of the university and the business community, both of which are significantly impacted by government.

Once again, an election brings change. In this case big change, much like the big change we saw in 2008. As I looked around at our visitors I was struck by the challenges and opportunities they and their colleagues face. We are at such a fascinating point in our history when government is at once losing much of its influence and effectiveness and frantically trying to stay relevant. Now that is far more true at the national and state level than local governments, but all are shrinking in both size and scope. And that has profound implications for universities, our justice system and businesses including entrepreneurial ventures and start-ups. And yes, media.

Relationships vary from funding to regulation to complementary missions, and all are changing as government apparently reinvents itself. What remains to be seen is whether or not these major drivers of economic growth can also reinvent themselves to operate in the global marketplace independent of government. Because I very much think that’s what is needed. It is happening to some degree already. For instance, author Richard Longworth says Chicago competes with London and Beijing as a global city with little need or regard for either the federal government or the state of Illinois. Global cities are the future in a world increasingly divided into dense, walkable urban regions and small-to-moderate, sustainably operated farms.

Madison must aspire to being a global city. It must share that aspiration with the greater region in which it is the center and the larger Midwest region in which it also is the center, thanks to Tom Still’s IQ Corridor. It means still greater autonomy for the UW. It means divorcing the UW further from the useless meddling of the state legislature and much closer ties with the business community and business organizations, including economic development entities. And it means leveraging those collaborative relationships to ensure the realization of critical economic growth infrastructure like integrated multi-modal transportation systems, and unrestricted scientific research on long-term health advances and disease eradication without the shortsighted pandering of politicians seeking money and the self-reflective praise of talk radio.

I suggest we see the glass as half full. I suggest this election opens the door to the UW, Madison College, Edgewood, Thrive, the Wisconsin Technology Council, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Bio-Ag Gateway, Center for Sustainability and more to come together to shape our shared future. It’s time for the real movers of wealth and services to stop being shaped by government and instead shape government to either better serve them or at least get out of the way. If the Tea Party can have the kind of impact it had on November 2, think of the impact a global region can have.

Neil P. Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine. Contact him at

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