Audit: Wisconsin Economic Agency’s Performance Improving

Wisconsin’s troubled economic development agency improved its performance over the past fiscal year but it still must sharpen its oversight of tax credit contracts, policies on closing contracts and the accuracy of online data, according to an audit released Wednesday.

The Legislative Audit Bureau’s biennial review found the quasi-public Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation largely complied with state law and its contracts when administering tax credits, loans and grants to businesses in fiscal year 2019-20. By December, the agency had awarded about $250 million to businesses to help them through the pandemic.

The amount of past-due loans decreased from $7.6 million to $6.6 million in 2019 and 2020. The audit attributed the decline to WEDC’s writing off loans and amending contracts to defer repayments.

The agency’s largest tax credit awards, meanwhile, mostly went to historic redevelopment projects in the last fiscal year.

The top 20 tax credit awards the agency gave out totaled $44.5 million, of which $32.4 million went to projects through the state’s Historic Preservation Tax Credit program. Nine of WEDC’s 10 largest tax credit awards in the past fiscal year supported historic redevelopment projects. The Madison startup Capio Biosciences received the fourth-largest tax credit award for a $3 million incentive it received as part of the state’s qualified new business venture program, which supports investments in early-stage businesses.

WEDC CEO Melissa Hughes wrote in a three-page response to the audit that her staff has been working on ways to administer and track enterprise-zone wages and plans to close tax credit awards in a more timely manner and is working to make online data “more robust and digestible.” She said she will present an action plan to the Legislature’s audit committee within the next few months.