Business is Part of Madison

Local businesses are the economic foundation of our city

It’s no accident that the first issue of Madison Magazine each year includes our Best of Madison Business Awards. Our late editor Brian Howell helped create the magazine’s commitment to covering Madison lifestyle and business, recognizing how intertwined the two really are.

The start of the new year is a fresh opportunity to speculate on what’s in store for our city, and inevitably we find new opportunities, innovations and contributions to civic life by outstanding businesses and business leaders. We’re proud of the tradition of recognizing these contributions in our magazine and at our annual Best of Madison Business Awards event.

Madison Magazine is all about service journalism, covering health, arts and entertainment, food and dining, style and design, habitat and travel, politics and culture. And everywhere we find Madison’s thoughtful, creative and generous business leaders making a difference. Lifestyle and business are inseparable. It’s who we are as Madisonians. So it is baffling that there are people who still seem to think there is something to be gained, some benefit to positioning “the business community” on one side and who knows what on the other side in some bizarre good versus evil battle for Madison’s soul. As if any of us could agree on exactly what Madison’s soul is.

But I can define a good part of Madison’s heart: it’s the businesses, the overwhelming majority being small, locally owned and operated, that employ our citizens, create our goods and provide our services, support our local nonprofits, schools and neighborhood centers, and maintain the economic foundation for our city.

And thus it is patently absurd to dismiss—as Mayor Paul Soglin did recently—107 of 154 emails his office received on the Edgewater project as unworthy of consideration since they “had some connection to … the business community.” Look, I don’t think for a second Soglin is “anti-business community,” another dismissive description unworthy of this discussion. Soglin has spent a good chunk of his career IN the business community. It was a less than thoughtful analysis. But this whole business community versus us nonsense keeps rearing its ugly head, ebbing and flowing with each city council election or new civic initiative that challenges us to look at this city we love with some patience, creativity, wisdom and value for the common good.

Just consider for a moment the city’s three major business entities: the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Madison, Inc. and Smart Growth Greater Madison. Think of the hundreds of members of those organizations—every one of you reading this knows one—and tell me the business community isn’t a critical, active partner in the health and welfare of this city. And what about the member businesses of Dane Buy Local? Are they part of the dangerous business conspiracy? What about the businesses with the Recall Walker signs in their window? Think they’re part of the 1%?

I know some of my friends at the Chamber of Commerce won’t like this but when I describe our city to colleagues around the country I describe our business community as progressive. While all businesses care about making money and staying in business, the great majority of them also care about the health and well-being of all the citizens of this community, which they call home as well.

But this is not about politics for me. It’s not even about the Edgewater. It’s about the future. It’s about the new community schools project. It’s about the Clean Lakes Alliance. It’s about the Capitol East District. It’s about every wonderful thing the United Way does. And yes, it’s about the 100 block of State Street. Most of all it’s about recognizing “the business community” cares about Madison, its families, its environment and its future every bit as much as those who want this city to stay just they way THEY love it. Perhaps more. 

Neil P. Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine. Contact him at nheinen@madisonmagazine.com.

Find more For the Record columns here.

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