Readers know I have been a long-time supporter and booster for Exact Sciences. I was forth-right in my calls for the company to have a downtown Madison headquarters, urging the city to lend assistance to help seal the deal. The Judge Doyle plans did not materialize, but my underlying position on that proposal remains. If we only listened to the ones in Madison who are opposed to everything we would still be mired down over how to proceed with Monona Terrace.
But for all the credit that Exact Sciences gets for medical research–and it is very much merited–I can not pull punches with the news which was reported today.
WEDC is in charge of job creation for Wisconsin and dispenses more than $3.1 billion a year in tax credits, grants, loans and bonds. Its handling of those awards, especially its tracking of companies in default, has been under scrutiny for years. WEDC is also in the spotlight for negotiating the contract with Foxconn Technology Group for a project that could yield the company more than $4 billion in state and local tax credits and other public benefits.
The most recent WEDC audit found continued problems with how it tracks job creation and awards to companies. Two of the cases highlighted involved Exact Sciences, which went unnamed, and another anonymous company that received $462,000 in tax credits even though it lost 17 jobs.
That company, as WEDC revealed in response to AP, is national retail chain Walgreens. Hogan also initially declined to name that company last week.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said it was good that WEDC released the names of the companies in response to the open records request, but it was “deeply troubling” that Hogan initially refused to do so.
“That never should have happened,” Lueders said. “Given the many known problems involving the agency he heads, it should be crystal clear that the public is entitled to maximum transparency when it comes to these awards.”
WEDC has been a walking disaster since the lights first came on in their offices. Audits and reports, which have surfaced over the years, have not allowed citizens to feel those in charge are competent. The agency is far better at creating negative headlines than using resources in a credible fashion.
But Exact Sciences does have a healthy reputation and does mighty important work which potentially touches all of our families. The company makes Cologuard, a colorectal cancer diagnostic test. To have them involved in headlines with WEDC, who used creative ways to track job development, is truly sad.
I wish that Exact Sciences had been forthcoming prior to the need for an open records request. The company is held in a high regard by many and should not weaken that bond by having their work now linked in a negative headline with WEDC. What has happened to them this news cycle is a major PR blunder. It could have been handled so much differently.