Established in 1992 by Joel Rogers, the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that seeks to help the state of Wisconsin cultivate “high-road economic development” founded upon “a competitive market economy of shared prosperity, environmental sustainability, and capable democratic government.” Advocating wealth redistribution via the imposition of tax hikes on high earners and the expansion of social-welfare programs for the poor, COWS deems it “important that state government be able to harness fair contribution from all parts of society—including corporations and the wealthy.” “Tax contributions,” says the Center, should be made “more equitable across socioeconomic lines,” so as to “ensure that public revenue is effectively allocated for pressing public needs.” To further diminish economic inequality, COWS is in favor of increasing the minimum wage for entry-level and low-end employees in the workplace. Since 1996, the Center has published a biennial report titled The State of Working Wisconsin, which “provides a comprehensive discussion of the changing economic position of working people in [Wisconsin].”
In the late 1990s, COWS began working to launch a number of progressive organizations and projects. In 2000, for instance, it initiated—along with the AFL-CIO’s Working for America Institute, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Chicago, and the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center—an Advanced Manufacturing Project seeking “to strengthen the U.S. manufacturing base.”
In the 2003 book Governing Work and Welfare in a New Economy, Joel Rogers and COWS associate director Laura Dresser argued that “what has appeared to happen—with the worst consequences for the less-educated, but extending well beyond its ranks—is that a large and growing portion of the American workforce is simply stuck in poverty or near-poverty jobs, with no serious prospects of income growth.” Dresser lamented that “we have tolerated, accepted and, in some ways, encouraged an incredible increase in inequality in the United States.”
In 2005, Rogers and the mayor of Madison, Wisconsin—Dave Cieslewicz—founded the Mayors Innovation Project (MIP), a network of American mayors dedicated to such ideals as “shared prosperity,” “environmental sustainability,” and “progressive metropolitan leadership.” With staunch support from COWS, this program encouraged city governments to allocate ever-increasing sums of taxpayer money to the goal of “improv[ing] education and lifelong learning, promot[ing] high-road economic and workforce development effort[s], expand[ing] housing and transit availability, [and] develop[ing] the opportunities of the clean energy economy while combating climate change.”
In 2007, Joel Rogers collaborated with Van Jones to establish Green For All, an environmental partner of progressive labor. A year later, Rogers co-founded the Emerald Cities Collaborative, which, together with COWS and Green For All, directed the Efficiency Cities Network, whose aim was to educate government workers and businesses vis-à-vis retrofits for the new green economy, and to ensure the “equitable distribution of resulting power, wealth, health, income, employment, and other opportunities.”
In 2009, COWS predicted that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (i.e., the $787 billion federal stimulus package) had “the potential to create almost 180,000 jobs in energy efficiency over the next few years,” and that the passage of additional “comprehensive climate and energy legislation” would lead to a “net increase of roughly 1.7 million [green] jobs in the U.S.”
Today, COWS's major ongoing initiatives include the following:
The Jobs & Skills program focuses on training workers—particularly “central city residents” who hold “low-wage/no-benefit jobs”—for careers that will offer them better pay and thereby reduce economic “inequality” in America.
The Energy & Transportation program seeks to “build shared prosperity into an emerging green economy” by creating jobs for “those who need [them] most,” in such areas as “energy retrofits” (of urban buildings) and “smart transportation” (utilizing “environmentally friendly” fuels like biodiesel, ethanol, and methanol).
The States & Cities program works in conjunction with a number of left-wing think tanks to promote “progressive policy solutions” for “pressing social issues” like “climate change, infrastructure, economic revitalization, health care, [and] criminal justice.”