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FALL 2016


A Vision for the Future of Wisconsin

I came to Janesville after three years at the

Chamber of Commerce in Dubuque, IA. The

story of how I ended up there seems a little

ridiculous to me now. A few months before I

landed in Dubuque, my future wife and I had

decided that it was time to get away from the

Washington, DC, rat race, so we quit our jobs

on Capitol Hill, packed up the U-Haul and set

sail for Madison, WI, in search of a new

adventure. (By the way, thinking back on

doing something this bold and spontaneous

makes the ‘middle-aged dad’ version of me

break into a cold sweat.)

My wife was fortunate to find great new job

quickly upon our arrival in Madison, but I was

not so lucky. After what felt like months of

hunting, I came across a legislative position

with the chamber of commerce in Dubuque—

Iowa. My first thought was, ‘so…where

exactly is Iowa?’After consulting

MapQuest—this was 2003, so MapQuest was

still a thing--I decided that commuting from

Madison to Dubuque wouldn’t be so bad.

After all, I was accustomed to sitting in DC

gridlock for hours to get to work.

So I applied for the job, and was fortunate

enough to land an interview. I can remember

the first time I rounded that last bend on

Highway 151 and seeing the city just beyond

the Mississippi River—I was floored. I spent

three great years in Dubuque, and I will

always remember my time their fondly. (I

won’t get into the utter ridiculousness of the

commute, but I drove back and forth from

Madison to Dubuque every day for three

years. I know.)

Dubuque is a wonderful city, and one that

Janesville can learn many lessons from.

During my first week on the job, local civic

and business leaders were planning a

celebration to mark the opening of the Grand

River Center, a gleaming convention center

overlooking the Mississippi River. I was

blown away the first time I saw the River

Center and visited the attractions in the Port of

Dubuque. I was even more impressed once I

learned that the Port had been neglected for

decades, and that Dubuque had basically been

left for dead. I heard that a prominent national

writer had even written one of those “last one

out, turn off the lights” stories about Dubuque

when the city’s unemployment rate hovered

around 24 percent.

Naturally, I wondered how the city had pulled

off this stunning transformation. I learned that

the state of Iowa had given the city a $40

million grant to revitalize the Port of Dubuque

through the Vision Iowa Program. Vision Iowa

was “created to assist projects that will

provide recreational, cultural, entertainment

and educational attractions.” The Vision Iowa

program has awarded $226 million to 13

major state projects since 2000, which was the

catalyst for nearly $1 billion in investment.

The state’s $40 million investment created

conditions that led to the construction of the

Grand River Center and to the great

businesses and attractions in the port. Today,

Dubuque’s thriving riverfront has transformed

the community.

So, fast forward to today. I’ve been working

(and living, thank goodness) in Janesville for

a decade. During that time, I’ve been

consistently surprised at the complete lack of

state resources for community development.

Many communities—including Janesville—

have developed plans for their future

prosperity, but too often these plans sit on

shelves gathering dust because there is no

money to complete them. So why not create a

state fund to help communities implement

their big ideas?

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I

developed a plan called Vision Wisconsin, a

revolving fund for major public infrastructure

projects. The plan, which was patterned after

Vision Iowa, would have $10 million to award

each year. The program would be under the

jurisdiction of the Wisconsin Economic

Development Corporation (WEDC), governed

by a board of directors who would award

funding through a competitive application


Vision Wisconsin would be useful to dozens

of Wisconsin cities, including Janesville.

While our city has funding in place for some

aspects of the exciting ARISE downtown

revitalization plan, much of the plan remains

unfunded. Vision Wisconsin could help fund

the ARISE plan—and projects in dozens of

other Wisconsin communities.

Our organization got behind Vision Wisconsin

a few years ago, and will be taking this

proposal back to the State Capitol in January.

If Wisconsin is to compete with like states

(like Iowa) who are investing millions in their

communities, we need bold ideas. We think

that the time is right for Vision Wisconsin, and

we hope that you agree. I encourage you to

join the conversation at


Dan Cunningham

- Vice President Government Relations & Education