f you’re like me, you’ve given some thought to the new hybrid cars on the market. Cleaner, more efficient automobile engines are at the very least one small part of reducing our carbon footprint. But did you know that if you are involved in an accident in a hybrid car, emergency responders need special training to get you out? The “Jaws of Life” don’t work the same way with the new hybrid technology and public safety folks need knowledge and experience in how to use this life-saving equipment on the newer cars. And they’re getting it … at MATC.

That’s just one of the things publisher Jen Winiger and I learned during a recent visit with Madison Area Technical College president Bettsey Barhorst. We also got a look at the new Facilities Master Plan, a glimpse into the challenging process of renaming the school, and a reminder of how incredibly important, vital and exciting community colleges are in general and MATC is in particular.

Jen and I are obviously not alone in this refresher course on the value of technical and community college education. President Obama announced the American Graduation Initiative funding program to help community colleges meet the needs of rapidly growing enrollments, and Dr. Jill Biden followed that up with an essay in Forbes proclaiming community colleges are no longer America’s best kept secret. Not that it’s been a secret here in Dane County, at least with much of the business community. MATC is widely recognized as a cornerstone of this region’s economic development strategy. Its ever-expanding collaborative efforts with the University of Wisconsin are providing a seamless pipeline of students trained for all aspects of the new economy, and that pipeline is increasingly flowing in both directions. Add in Edgewood College (where I teach) and smaller community colleges like Herzing and you have a critical mass of higher-educational resources to provide the entrepreneurs, trained workers, research and teaching to fuel this region’s economy for the foreseeable future.

And don’t you wish you could foresee more of it? We do, too. So we asked for some help. We invited five of this community’s top business leaders and thinkers to talk to us, to their colleagues in the business community and to you, our readers, about what we all might expect in 2010. This year has been a challenge on so many levels. One of the most difficult has been to maintain a sense of perspective. Where does loss, real and perceived, affect confidence and behavior at the intersection of fear and opportunity? Our panelists didn’t sugarcoat anything—these folks are not where they are by virtue of rose-colored glasses. But the task at hand is rebuilding confidence and our roundtable participants offered knowledge, experience, insights and vision, and I’m confident that after reading what they have to say you’ll join me in accepting Tom Still’s reassuring invitation to crawl out from under our desks. I want to thank Tom, Jennifer Alexander, David Simon, Tim Cooley and Greg Dombrowski for sharing their time and wisdom. There are a range of reasons the greater Madison region will emerge from this recession sooner and stronger than most other regions in the country and the leadership of our top business people is right at the top.

I’m tempted to say that progressive business leadership is part of our “style.” But regular readers know that when I start talking about style I am out of my element, certainly when the topic is fashion. Fortunately we have a very talented and stylish associate editor for such things. Once again this month Shayna Miller makes us (and a few others including also immensely talented cover model Susan Siman) look good—and makes a trip to a local clothing store a good first stop after emerging from below the desk.

Neil Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine. Reach him at .