Conflict of Interest? WEDC board member’s biz benefits from Evers’ grant

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — When Gov. Tony Evers announced he was handing out $60 million in federal COVID relief funds last month to address workforce challenges, he said the money would “help folks get back to work.”

The Democrat didn’t note that nearly $1 million from the program would go to a partnership involving a business owned by a Democratic Party contributor Evers appointed to the Wisconsin Economic Development Board.

Conflict of interest?

It seems like it.

In December, Evers took another opportunity to dip into his unofficial re-election campaign slush fund — the billions of dollars in federal COVID aid almost exclusively at his disposal. The $60 million in grants support 12 regional workforce development projects, and is part of the broader Workforce Innovation Grant program funded through the American Rescue Plan Act.

The larger grant program is a collaboration between Evers’ Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

Among the recipients is the city of Kenosha, receiving nearly $1 million to help foster entrepreneurship in a community that took a severe beating from rioters in August 2020. Kenosha is partnering with gener8tor, a Madison/Milwaukee-based start-up business accelerator that will provide “coaching, mentorship and networking to start-up founders of color and women founders.”

gener8tor, was co-founded by Joe Kirgues, an Evers’ appointee to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. board since early 2019.

gener8tor’s involvement in the Kenosha project would seem to be a conflict of interest under state ethics laws.

“It’s a perception problem for sure,” a legislative aide who frequently deals with economic development issues told Empower Wisconsin. “He’s a public official tied into this.”

It’s not clear whether Kirgues had any role in the grant selection process. A WEDC official did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comment. Kirgues did not return phone and email messages seeking comment.

The grant program is available to nonprofit or governmental entities “to help implement collaborative, innovative plans to tackle a specific region’s most pressing workforce challenge,” according to a previous press release. The grants are administered through an interagency effort between the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the Department of Workforce Development (DWD).

While the city of Kenosha is a governmental entity, its partner in the grant project is a nationally ranked player in the field of start-up acceleration. It is a very profitable company, deriving revenue from equity in the businesses gener8tor helps incubate.

Will the company take a piece of the proceeds from the start-ups it mentors under the taxpayer-funded grant program?

According to BizTimes, the grant funding will cover the costs of running the gener8tor’s gBETA program for three years. The program is a “seven-week accelerator that works with local, early-stage startups so they can gain early customer traction for their product or idea,” the publication reported. “The program also helps startups establish metrics to become competitive applicants for full-time, equity-based accelerators or seed investment. There will be two gBETA programs running each year for three years.”

The grant also will fund a full-time director to run the local program.

Kirgues has been a relatively minor contributor to Democratic Party politics, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign database. The entrepreneur has contributed $3,200 total to Democrats and state Democratic legislative committees over the past decade, including a $100 contribution to former Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Before Evers tapped him for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. board, Kirgues told the Milwaukee Business Journal that he hoped the business community would keep an open mind about Evers, who at the time was just beginning his term as governor. Kirgues said Evers would seek bipartisan solutions to, for example, address workforce challenges and boost the state’s start-up business culture.

“I’m excited about his convening power,” Kirgues told the publication.

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4 responses to “Conflict of Interest? WEDC board member’s biz benefits from Evers’ grant”

  1. David Krantz Avatar
    David Krantz

    That’s how Dems make their money – either through a direct government paycheck or getting “grant money” for their side hustles.

  2. Harold Wilkes Avatar
    Harold Wilkes

    That’s not a conflict of interest, it’s a synchronicity of interest…it shows you where Evers interests really lie and they’re not with Wisconsinites well-being.

  3. Maxx Avatar

    What I am sick and tired of hearing day after day is how Evers is using the government Covid money to prop up an support his crony’s. If we had a REAL Attorney General instead of the democRAT carpetbagger Kaul, Evers should be investigated for political corruption. If anybody got money it should have been the city of Kenosha except the moeney should habe come out of Evers own money because Kenosha was destroyed by Evers failure to protect the lives and property of Wisconsin citizens. He is the person responsible for letting BLM and Antifa destroy Kenosha. There MUST be a legal way to hold Evers accountable for incompetence and failure to uphold the oath of office he swore. THIS IS PURE B.S. and this fool needs to be punished.

  4. Maxx Avatar

    David Krantz you are correct about that. Just look at all of the “allegedly community based” phoney organization run by local Milwaukee activists that are given grants to help people yet the money is used for cars, trips, and many personal expenses. Sadly, most of these phoney organizations are run by black women. They have phoney names to make them sound legitimate but they are all personal boondoggles. I forget the names of these women but just ask Gwen Moore, she knows all of them because she gets the government money for them.

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