By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Despite what some have characterized as a revolving door at the top of Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development, DWD Secretary Reggie Newson said he’s there to stay — or at least for as long as his boss, Gov. Scott Walker will allow him.
Newson is nearly two months on the job, promoted from deputy secretary to the top spot in October, after Scott Baumbach left the post to join the private sector, becoming “chief talent officer” at Catapult LLP, a Madison-based workforce solutions firm, according to his Linkedin and Twitter accounts.
Baumbach in May replaced DWD Secretary Manny Perez, who, too, resigned for a private-sector job.
The instability at the top of a department charged with getting Wisconsin back to work has drawn criticism from Democrats, pointing to four consecutive months of workforce contraction and a jobless rate at 7.7 percent in October, the most recent data available.
“The main thing about getting Wisconsin working again is we need to do all we can to keep the jobs we have, but right now we’re on our third workforce development secretary in 11 months,” state Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, told Wisconsin Reporter late last month. “This is a fundamental job training position and clearly they are going through a lot of secretaries.”
Newson, in an interview with Wisconsin Reporter last week, said he is humbled to serve as secretary for the governor and the taxpayers.
“I told the governor I will serve in this capacity as long as he will have me,” the secretary said. “I am committed this job.”
Newson said he has assembled a great management team, including DWD Deputy Secretary Jonathan Barry, a former state representative and Dane County executive who has served in management in the public and nonprofit sectors.
Also on board is DWD Unemployment Insurance Division Administrator Craig Barkelar, who spent 17 years investigating state government fraud and waste and came to DWD from Wisconsin State Fair Park, where he served as chief financial officer.
“I believe this team will help me and help the governor move this agency forward,” Newson said.
The new secretary presides over an agency with 1,600 employees in six divisions, with an annual budget of more than $450 million.
Before coming to DWD, Newson served as executive assistant at the state Department of Transportation. He served more than six years as the DOT’s operations director for the southeast region, responsible for a $320 million budget and 500 employees.
Newson agreed that continuity will be critical in pushing an ambitious set of initiatives. Among other campaigns, DWD wants to schedule more than 100 job fairs next year, bolster social networks like Twitter and Facebook to connect labor with employers, and advance a national career register certificate, ensuring employers have a more qualified labor pool from which to draw.
“My role is to bridge the gap between the private sector and the schools systems and nonprofits,” Newson said.