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Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog


The Squawk About Madison

February 16, 2009 10:54 PM

Everything's discounted these days. It turns out that your fifteen minutes of fame is down to three minutes and thirty seconds. That's what I got on international television the other day when I was a guest on "Squawk on the Street" on CNBC.

I confess to having never heard of "Squawk" before I was invited to come on to do a feature on cities that are still doing well during the recession. But it was a national show so I wanted to be prepared. I asked my economic development advisor Mario Mendoza to pull together some information for me. Then a friend who watches the show pointed out that market watchers and traders all over the world actually watch this show even at nine in the morning (central standard time) when I was going to be on. This made me nervous. It wasn't just a national show; it was an international show. I started asking Mario for increasingly obscure points of information, fearing embarrassment before the audience in Madrid or whevever. "Gee, that Mayor from Madison, Wisconsin sure is an idiot. Let's not invest any money there ever." I was afraid of that kind of reaction.

When the time came for the actual interview, the hosts were in New York and I was at Channel 3 listening to them though an ear piece. Before it was my turn I listened to the show. I was kind of nervous going in and this did not help. It turned out to be one of those shows where self-important types yell at one another about who's responsible for destroying the international economy. I felt as if I would not necessarily fit in in this kind of situation. So, I was feeling slightly uncomfortable already when Erin Burnett, the host, did her lead in to my segment. At the mention of Madison, Wisconsin, her cohost, Some Guy Named Mark, a curmudgeon of the first degree, put his head in his hands and said, "Great. Another college town."

Apparently, according to Some Guy Named Mark, college towns are not real places and he and Erin were clearly not real interested in us. They sort of sleep walked their way through the interview. But reports from those around here who watched are that I managed not to screw up and then it was over. I was left wondering why CNBC bothered, exactly.

But I did get a chance to make one basic point: We are a college town, but that's not nearly the whole story. Armed with my data from Mario I've been annoying people all week by quizzing them about this. I ask how much of the Madison employment base is made up by government, including local and state government and the university. Take a moment yourself. What do you think? Most people answer 40% to 80%. The real answer? Twenty percent (20%). Next comes entertainment of all kinds (16%), insurance and finance (10%), manufacturing (8%) and health care (5%).

And even if the UW does make up a big part of our economy what does that tell you? It tells you that education and research are important. I was prepared, thanks to Mario, to tell them that the UW ranks third among all universities in the nation for money spent on engineering and science research and first in the nation for research on everything else. I was prepared to tell them that education is so valued here that we just passed the largest school referendum in the city's history and that we were recently ranked the third best public school system in the country. I was prepared to say that the reasons we were successful were that we have a diversified economy with a major research university at its center and that we were a progressive community that wasn't afraid to invest in education and quality of life.

In my three and a half minutes of fame I only got to a small part of that, but this is what I love about this blog. I got to the rest of it here. So, take that, Erin and Some Guy Named Mark.


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