Wisconsin defends cash incentives to Mercury Marine

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Wisconsin's flagship jobs program has committed up to $135.6 million in incentives during the last two years to four major employers, including Mercury Marine, to ensure they keep or create 7,400 jobs in the state.

So far, Wisconsin is on track to recoup that money through economic growth that will boost state taxes by a rough projection of $164 million or more, according to a state Department of Commerce report released to the Journal Sentinel through the open-records law.

The incentives and benefits, as well as the tax revenue increase, should last at least nine years.

"It's finding the right mix of saving the best of our traditional economy while simultaneously moving ahead with our knowledge-based economy," Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, told the newspaper.

Several of the enterprise-zone deals also helped preserve or bring to the state corporate offices that employed highly paid and educated white-collar workers, said Pat O'Brien, executive director of the regional economic development partnership Milwaukee 7.

In September, Mercury Marine decided not to send hundreds of jobs at a Fond du Lac factory to a non-union plant in Oklahoma after the local union approved contract concessions.

The state pledged up to $70 million in tax credits and local officials provided their own incentives.

Mercury spokesman Steve Fleming said the company had retained nearly 2,000 existing Wisconsin jobs, called workers back from layoffs and done modest hiring for an unspecified number of positions. The company remained on track to meet the long-term jobs goals of its agreement with the state, he said.

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