The Wisconsin business of which we shall not speak. | WisCommunity

The Wisconsin business of which we shall not speak.

Earlier this year my 96-year-old mother was hospitalized and the nurse was quizzing me about her medical history. When I was unable to answer one of her questions she went to the computer screen and tapped a few keys. "Well, " she said, "according to Epic...".

According to Epic. She didn't say according to our records, or according to the computer, but according to Epic.

The Verona-based software firm founded by Judith Faulkner is becoming the industry standard for health care providers. Epic dominates the market and is expanding overseas.

They have about 6,000 employees on their Verona campus and recently announced they will be hiring 500 more in the next few months. It is a privately-held corporation but recent estimates put its sales at $1.5 billion-plus a year, making it one of the largest corporations in Wisconsin. Verona is now Wisconsin's Silicon Valley.

So if you were Wisconsin's governor wouldn't you be singing the praises of this company and what it has done for your state?

Not Scott Walker. I did a Google search using the terms Epic and Walker and didn't turn up any mentions. He would only have to drive about 8 miles to pay them a visit. Maybe too busy.

There are reasons for this silence. First, Faulkner donates money to Democratic candidates and supported Tom Barrett in the recall. So there is that. But that is not the only reason. The entire story of Epic and its success is the antithesis of the Republican narrative of business success and even admitting its existence would expose anti-matter to all things Republican.

Faulkner came to Wisconsin not to start a software firm but to get her Master's in computer science at UW-Madison. She stayed, working with some fellow grads, and put her skills to use in some local projects standardizing record-keeping. The rest is history as they say.

So what do we have so far? Entrepreneur moves to area, lured not by some slogan but by our excellent education system.

Starts up business, didn't ask for a loan from a state slush fund, didn't complain about her taxes or ask for relaxation of regulations. Didn't require tearing a hole in the planet.

But if that is not enough Epic compensates its employees very well. All the usual array of benefits, a lunch room offering delicious offerings supervised by an accomplished chef. And then there is the sabbatical. Every five years employees are allowed a paid sabbatical and encouraged to travel. Oh, I failed to mention Epic will pay the expenses for you and a partner.

Epic values its employees and understands that taking care of the workforce aids retention and is good for business.This of course flies in the face of the current narrative which claims unions and high wages stifle businesses and government. And don't get me started on the minimum wage.

But it gets worse. Epic is in the healthcare business and certainly has benefitted from the ACA and its companion legislation subsidizing computerized record-keeping. Even if Walker could let bygones be bygones on Faulkner's politics, admitting that Wisconsin is a leader in the hated healthcare industry would be too much to swallow. That would bring up the subject of the Medicaid expansion. Too painful.

There are some teachable moments here which will have to wait for a more progressive governor.

Education and an educated workforce are critical to a healthy economy. Walker cut $1.1 billion from the state's education budget. Businesses are organic and homegrown and don't need to "bribe" their way to success with political donations.

But there is one upside for Walker. Epic's hiring of workers is calculated into his jobs numbers. He can take credit for that.


September 25, 2014 - 9:14am