Last week's Isthmus cover story explored how technology may help rebuild Wisconsin's economy.
This week's Isthmus cover story is about how technology may help destroy local businesses in Madison and around the state.
Both assertions are true. Both might be a bit of an overstatement. The tech sector has already transformed Dane County, and that process is continuing.
Tech jobs increase the regional tax base, particularly along East Washington Avenue and over in Verona. At the same time, the building boom in both locations should make us think about how we use TIF dollars. Tax incremental financing is a powerful tool that has done a tremendous amount of good in the city -- but increasingly it feels like a developer won't build so much as a tool shed without asking for a public loan. These TIF districts take money out of the school district, and we should think twice before subsiding condos at the expense of aging school buildings.
The tech sector brings good competition to existing businesses. There's a reason why dependable, responsive apps like Lyft and Uber are incredibly useful to get around town. As I wrote some months back, Lyft and Uber's distaste for basic health and safety regulations along with 24-hour service is less awesome. A growing tech sector shouldn't mean a return to the Gilded Age.
Of course, tech entrepreneurs don't like regulation. Nobody likes having control taken away from them. Entrepreneurs have fought regulations for as long as corporations have been chartered, even when said regulations would be a net positive for the community. That doesn’t change, even if the jobs have moved from a meat packing plant to a mobile app startup.
Speaking of jobs, the tech sector creates lots of great opportunities -- for some people. Madison now has two giant economic pillars: UW-Madison and Epic. The two are increasingly interconnected. Both create thousands of good jobs. And the majority of those jobs require a college degree.
Many cities currently experiencing a tech boom are also facing growing levels of income inequality. The rising tide of the 21st century economy is not lifting all boats, at least not equally. Madison needs to continue to pursue the tech sector, as the alternative is stagnation. But we also need to promote sectors of the economy that create jobs for all Madisonians. There are a number of underlying causes for the income inequality in our community, but a lack of access to jobs is certainly a contributing factor.
Besides, if some place can find a way to build new industries in the greenest way possible, it would be Madison. The UW and the tech sector are certain to contribute some innovations.
Here's the challenge going forward: How do we innovate without leaving people behind? The tech economy is a boom to Madison, and aspiring to become the tech hub of the Upper Midwest has a nice ring to it, but that shouldn't be our only focus.