The interim CEO of the state’s public-private agency that replaced the former Department of Commerce will remain in his position permanently after a series of credibility issues for the agency, Gov. Scott Walker announced Tuesday.
Reed Hall will keep his job as permanent CEO of the quasi-public Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which has seen a number of problems in the past year; most notably, it lost track of more than $8 million worth of loans to businesses in October. Walker and a Republican-controlled Legislature established WEDC last session to replace the Department of Commerce.
Walker said at a news conference Hall will continue to “get the credibility of this organization back” and noted most of the issues within WEDC have been or are in the process of being dealt with.
“[Hall will continue] to address some of the administrative concerns that were limited to a few but had an impact on the image of the WEDC,” Walker said. “He’s done an incredible job of working with the board, the Legislature, auditors and others to timely and effectively address those challenges.”
Hall, a former Wisconsin Alumni Association board member, replaced Paul Jadin in October when Jadin left for a private sector job.
WEDC announced in October that it had lost track of more than $8 million in loans it gave to businesses, or about 15 percent of its loan portfolio.
Walker said he had not originally planned on keeping Hall, who had agreed to an interim-only position. But Walker chose to keep Hall despite a nationwide search for a new CEO that had led to 120 candidates and three finalists.
When asked about the search being a waste of money, Walker said it was “well worth it” because businesses can see he chose Hall out of a vast number of qualified applicants.
Hall said he was excited to stay on at his first public sector job and said WEDC has been working on a computer system to keep track of loans, grants and tax credits. He also said WEDC is recruiting a chief financial officer and will soon be looking for a senior credit officer.
A number of business groups released statements saying they were pleased with the decision to keep Hall. Kurt Bauer, president of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, said in a statement Hall was a “proven innovator” who would continue to make the state more business-friendly.
Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, was less complimentary about the selection. He criticized WEDC’s spending of roughly $40,000 on the CEO search only to select the interim CEO.
“Wisconsin’s hastily-developed job creation entity WEDC has now wasted even more tax dollars,” Larson said in a statement. “Secretary and CEO Hall, with very little economic development experience, is the least qualified of those considered for the position.”
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, who is a WEDC board member, said in a statement he was also concerned with the costs of the search.
Despite welcoming Hall to the agency, Barca said he would have liked to see a CEO with more experience in economic development.
“The priority for WEDC must be regaining public trust, putting people back to work quickly and reserving this negative economic trend,” Barca said. “Reed Hall seems like a capable business person and I stand ready to work with anyone — including the new CEO, the governor and the rest of the WEDC board — to help achieve our economic goals.”