WisBusiness: Madison native returning from California to tackle city development post
By Brian E. Clark
Tim Cooley left sunny Southern California Wednesday afternoon, headed for a new career back in his home state as economic development director for the City of Madison.
The City Council approved his appointment to the job last week.
It was 71 when Cooley set out from Irvine and less than 10 degrees in his old home town. But after many years on the West Coast working in marketing and economic development, Cooley said he’s looking forward to experiencing the four seasons again – including winter.
“That’s nothing that another sweater can’t help,” he mused.
Cooley also said he’s more than ready to dive into the effort to bring new businesses and jobs to Madison and the surrounding region. He starts his new position on Feb. 16.
“The first thing I want to do when is start talking to people to get the lay of the land,” said Cooley, who graduated from Madison East earned a journalism degree from UW-Madison in 1975.
“The whole idea of bringing in economic development as a formal position – as Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has done – is to give a voice of advocacy to the business community and make an assessment of what we can do to help them out through this period of difficulty.
“The one thing I really want to do is get out and talk to major employers and work with the Common Council and the neighborhood associations and (find out) what we can do. We’ll see what issues rise to the top and what we can address.”
Cooley said he was not concerned about any lingering bitterness by the business community over the appointment last year of Bill Clingan by Cieslewicz to be the city’s economic and community development director.
Following an uproar, Clingan withdrew his name from consideration and later accepted a post as community development director with the city in August.
“I think that’s all been put to rest,” he said. “I’ll be working on economic development and we’ll both report to the mayor and I think everything that has happened in the past is done. I’m looking forward to the future.”
In any case, he said he will work to dispel the perception that city hall is not friendly to commerce.
“The people I’ve talked to say the city has made tremendous strides over the past few years in trying to be business friendly, but there is always room to improve,” he said.
“It’s one of the things I’ll be sensitive to,” he added. “I’m going to be new in town. And if I get frustrated and I’m part of the process, just imagine what it’s like for entrepreneurs and business people. I’ll be able to get a good feel for that fairly quickly and where we can make improvements, we will.”
Cooley said one of his areas of attention will be to increase the competitiveness of the region’s high-tech industries.
“But that’s only one of the areas, though it certainly has a great deal of importance to Madison and the whole region because it has the ingredients to be a great high-tech area,” he said. “Especially in certain clusters like biomed, biotech and biopharmaceutical, along with agriculture, health care and veterinary medicine.”
He said Madison is fortunate to have a research powerhouse in the University of Wisconsin, as well as WARF, whose primary role is to commercialize scientific discoveries.
“The companies that have been spawned by the university have been a great boost to the local economy,” he said.
Another goal is to raise the national profile of Madison, which he said is low compared to other high-tech and research centers around the country.
“Certainly the stem cell research coming out of the university is well known,” he said. “But outside of that, people don’t know a lot about Madison or the surrounding area. We aren't on the radar scan, which doesn’t make a lot of sense with all the assets we have, especially for high tech companies.”
Cooley said he will work with regional groups such as THRIVE, south-central Wisconsin’s economic organization.
“I’ve already met with Jennifer Alexander (president of THRIVE and head of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce) and the reality is that this is going to have to be a regional effort.
“The city is important to the suburbs and the suburbs are important to the city. That’s why we need a regional approach.”
Cooley said he is looking forward to living in Madison again.
“When I came back here to talk to WARF about something that didn’t work out, I fell back in love with the area and was quite impressed with what people like Tom Still is doing (with the Wisconsin Technology Council) and Mark Bugher at the University Research Park.
“All of the sudden I thought it might be great to come back here and take some of the experiences I’ve had over the past 20 years and use them to help a city that I care a lot for.”