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In an increasingly competitive environment for development, how a government attracts and retains new businesses is important to understand, especially since unemployment continues to be an issue in Racine.

With Racine voters heading to the polls on Feb. 17 to choose among four candidates — Janice Hand, Ed Diehl, Melvin Hargrove, and incumbent John Dickert — for the mayoral primary election; the candidates answered how they would tackle this issue if they were elected to the job.

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.

For Hand, the issue of attracting and retaining businesses is accomplished by making Racine a place where people are ambassadors for their community. She has visited websites where people ask what the city is like, but people tell them not to go to Racine.

“They tell them to go to Milwaukee, they tell them to go to Kenosha… they tell them not to come to Racine,” Hand said. “That’s sad. We need people selling our city who actually live here. We need to make that connection with people.”

Hand also believes that the city’s services — like getting a business license — need to be more accessible by streamlining the process.

“The mayor (should) be in the position to make it possible for people outside of the city to know that we are here, we are ready, and we want you,” Hand said.

Dickert pointed out that when developers come to Racine, they ask about three things: education and workforce, transportation, and quality of life.

“They don’t ask me what is your tax base because the reality is that they are probably being incentivized to be here in the first place,” Dickert said.

Dickert asks businesses what they need, but he pays for what those needs using intergovernmental agency funds, not taxpayer dollars, and he requires that the businesses need to hire locally first. The inter-governmental funds are fees paid to Racine by surrounding communities. Still, the biggest issue is quality of life in Racine. And if the community can work on those issues, that can change, he said.

“The fact is, we’re still not doing enough,” he said.

But Diehl said he’d work a little differently on this issue. He’d stop “nickel and diming” small businesses by looking at ways to cut costs in licensing, inspections and personal property taxes.

“The city’s hooked on that money because we need the revenue,” Diehl said. “It’s a bad idea, it dis-incentivizes businesses from staying here or moving here… and that has to go.”

Education would be Hargrove’s primary focus in addressing this issue because he believes that a strong workforce will help attract and keep businesses in Racine. He also would look at how to support large, small and micro-businesses.

“You then have the tax base being created from the small and big businesses, and that will make Racine attractive along with the beautiful lake we have right now,” he said.

Here’s the audio of their answers:

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

Check out the other story we’ve done: Mayoral Election Candidates Talk Jobs, Taxes, and Budgets

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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