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Janice Hand (left) and John Dickert are both running for mayor. Dickert is the incumbent. Racine voters head to the polls on Feb. 17 to choose among four candidates for the mayoral election, which includes: Janice Hand, Ed Diehl, Melvin Hargrove, and incumbent John Dickert

The two candidates with the most votes on Feb. 17 will oppose one another for the spring election on April 7.

The Racine County Eye and the Racine Taxpayers’ Association sponsored a candidate forum at Gateway Technical College on Thursday where candidates fielded a number of questions about their experience and positions on a number of issues. Each candidate had a minute to respond to questions. We’ll feature a number of those questions and the candidates’ answers over the next several days.

20150205_190520Unemployment in Racine has dropped over the past year from 10.7 percent in Dec. 2013 to 8.8 percent in Dec. 2014. Still, Racine has the highest unemployment rate in the state, which was at 5.2 percent in Dec. 2014. 

Diehl broached the unemployment issue by emphasizing the need for changing how the city taxes small businesses as a means of loosening up available cash for the businesses to hire more employees.

“They (small businesses) are the lifeblood of this community,” Diehl said.

If elected, Diehl wants to create what he calls a peripheral enterprise zone, a mechanism by which municipalities could give tax breaks for five years to existing small businesses around tax incremental financing districts if they want to expand the business or hire more people.

20150205_190415“It’s something we can talk about,” Diehl said. “I’ve already talked with people at the state level, they love this idea.”

Hargrove said he would focus his energy on understanding what employers’ needs are for existing job openings and tailor training programs around those needs. Specifically, he’d tackle soft skills training.

The problem that needs addressed is finding people that are ready and qualified to work, but that conversation needs to be with the educational system, Hargrove said.

“There are jobs already here in this city,” he said. “The problem is we need to partner with and facilitate conversation with (Racine) Unified, Carthage, Parkside, Gateway and the business community to find out what is needed and necessary to help that unemployment rate go down.”

Hand also believes the issue of unemployment needs to be focused on education. She’s doesn’t believe in the concept of trickle down economics, but rather sees the unemployment issue being solved from the bottom up.

“There are lots of people who sit in this town and don’t have the ability to get a job because they don’t have the skills they need to get the kind of jobs that are here already,” Hand said.

Hand also would like to see developers hire people from Racine and use Racine businesses, but Dickert said the city already has the ability to do that through a program called “Racine First.” 

Dickert explained how the program, which is being used in the Machinery Row development, through the project labor agreement. He also pointed to how Launch Box, a business development community that helps businesses grow, helps attract business and helps businesses grow.

“I’ve also toured 72 businesses in Racine from the boardroom all the way to the machine shop, and I’ve talked to these people to find out what their needs are,” Dickert said. “We’ve helped 15 of those business grow. Now that may be only 10 to 20 jobs at a time, but that’s 10 to 20 jobs that are pretty important to people.”

Dickert also pointed to how the city is helping larger businesses connect to the Wisconsin Procurement Institute,” he said. “Why? So that they can grow internally and externally… the fact is, it’s working. We just have to keep it going.”

Listen to all the candidates’ answers to this question on the audio link below.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.

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