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WisBusiness: A year after recall, Hopper focused on economic development work

Randy Hopper is bullish on Sheboygan County.

“It’s an impressive area,” said Hopper, the former GOP state senator who's now the new executive director of the county’s economic development corporation.

“There are great companies here like Kohler, Johnsonville, Sargento Cheese and Bemis Manufacturing that are steeped in multi-generational tradition,” added Hopper, who represented Fond du Lac from 2009 to 2011 before he was ousted in a recall by Democrat Jessica King.

“Business and government leaders here are committed to making Sheboygan County the best place to raise a family and the best place for economic opportunity. Not only in the state, but the entire country.”

On top of that, he tells WisBusiness.com in a new interview, the county has several of the country’s top golf courses (including major venue Whistling Straits on the Lake Michigan coast), picturesque countryside and shoreline, top art facilities, and, some say, the best fresh-water surfing on the globe. (His office is just three blocks from the lakeshore.)

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Hopper acknowledges he's fortunate to have this job.

Not only was he one of two Republican state senators to be recalled last year, but he also faced a high-profile legal battle over a drunken driving arrest, albeit one that ended in his acquittal. And during the recall, Hopper’s ex-wife alleged he had moved to Madison to live with his girlfriend.

When he was hired, Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. officials said they were convinced Hopper – who has an MBA from Northwestern and owns several radio stations – was the best fit.

They noted he had letters of recommendation from not only Gov. Scott Walker and former Gov. Tommy Thomson, both Republicans, but former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat.

Hopper said his work to keep Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac brought praise from Doyle in a State of the State address.

Working with Walker, Hopper said he was one of the major authors of legislation that helped create the quasi-public Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which replaced the old Commerce Department.

“When someone is looking for a job, they don’t care if you are a Republican or Democrat, they care about what you’re doing to foster an environment where they can go back to work,” he said.

When he was in the Senate, he said he worked well with Sens. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

“Sen. Taylor and I would go at it (on the Senate floor) and then have dinner later. But I helped bring jobs to her district,” he said.

Walker recently shook up the staff at the WEDC, which continues to be headed by Paul Jadin.

“Obviously, the leadership in governor’s office saw a need to make a change,” Hopper said. “But I know what the governor’s intent is (with the WEDC). His intent is spot on with what will invigorate the economy.

“Now if we are doing it properly, that is the next step. But I am looking forward to working with state and regional WEDC people because we are all in this together.”

Hopper, who replaced Patrick Drinan (who now works for the WEDC in a regional job), said he views his Sheboygan job as a fresh start.

"I learned a lot during this past year,” he said, noting that he had “frank discussions” with the hiring committee about his tribulations.

“Some of the things that were reported about me weren’t necessarily the truth, but I wasn’t going to bring personal things into the media during the political season,” he said.

Hopper also said has been humbled.

“It made me wiser, and it’s also allowing me to move forward,” he said.

“This organization said we believe that you are the right person for what we need. I am going to come in every day and prove that they are right. I’m excited to get up and go to work in the morning.”

Hopper said he plans to move from Fond du Lac to Sheboygan County soon. And that he has no plans to run for office again.

“I would never shut the door, but right now I could not be in a better place,” he said. “A lot of elected officials talk about creating jobs, now I’m in a position where I really get to help do that.”

-- By Brian E. Clark


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