Bill Wineke

WINEKE: Criticizing Trek doesn't make sense for Walker

I guess Gov. Walker thinks running advertisements accusing Mary Burke of shipping bicycle jobs to China is a good idea, but it doesn't make sense to me.

Burke is most likely to be Walker's Democratic opponent in this fall's gubernatorial race. She is a former executive of Trek Bicycles, a company her father founded in Waterloo, though she actually hasn't been active in the company for several years.

I worked closely with her several years ago when she was raising money to build the new Boys and Girls Club in Madison. I think she's a good executive and she's a good person.

She even invited me to play golf with her at Maple Bluff.


She's a good golfer. I'm not.

Here's the point: I know Mary Burke but I'm not sure how many other people do. But, now, Gov. Walker is doing his best to identify her as a top executive of an iconic Wisconsin corporation. Actually, Mary Burke's advertising has been trying to identify her as a top executive of an iconic Wisconsin corporation. So, if I were Burke, I'd be happy with the Walker ads.

To be sure, the ads aren't too complimentary. They assert that Burke made "millions" of dollars by building bicycles in China where women and children make as little as $2 an hour. These jobs, the ad says, could have been created in Wisconsin.

And Walker campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marre went further, saying "there's no disputing the fact that Mary Burke made millions of dollars shipping Wisconsin jobs overseas."

Walker's whole economic philosophy for Wisconsin has been that Wisconsin is "open for business." He was willing to cut income for government employees, gut state payments for public schools and do all sorts of mean things in order to make this a better place in which to do business and, presumably increase employment.

Trek employs 1,000 people in Wisconsin – mostly in Waterloo and Whitewater, which tend to be Republican communities. It has a Wisconsin payroll of $52 million. Burke hasn't had a decision-making role in the company for about 10 years. Why is Walker trashing Trek and are his accusations true?

There's a big difference between saying a company "could have" built Chinese bikes in Wisconsin and saying the company actually "made millions shipping Wisconsin jobs overseas."

Toyota "could have" built my two-year old Venza in Japan. But it didn't. The Venza was designed in Ann Arbor, Mich. It was built in Georgetown, Ky. Trek is the largest bicycle manufacturer in the United States, the second largest in the world. But China has lots of bicycle riders.

So, were any Wisconsin jobs actually "shipped overseas" or did Trek build plants closer to their expanding customer base? And to give Mary Burke her due, I think that when she worked for Trek she was largely responsible for expanding that customer base.

Pacific Cycles, a company with international headquarters in Madison, and which sells other iconic-named two-wheelers, including Schwinn, imports all of its product from overseas. I wonder what Pacific's owners think of the Walker ad?

You see all sorts of crazy advertising in political campaigns and most people ignore all of it. But for a pro-business governor to alienate his state's manufacturing base while, at the same time, enhancing the business credibility of an opposing candidate strikes me as being more than a little weird.

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