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 2001, COWS partnered with the Institute for America’s Future and the Tides Center to create the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, business, environmental, and community leaders working to “catalyze a clean energy revolution.”
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.”
COWS likewise played a part in creating the Center for State Innovation (CSI), which aimed to help governors and state executives “promote innovative, progressive policies.” Toward that end, CSI presented such leaders with “high-quality briefings and materials on new policy proposals” in the areas of “education, public safety, growing the middle class, government reform, economic and workforce development, clean energy, immigration, transportation and smart growth, and taxes.” By 2010, CSI boasted the cooperation of 39 states. Moreover, it had enlisted the support of numerous government agencies and prominent progressive organizations, including the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Commerce Commission, the Immigration Policy Center, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the New York City Economic Development Commission, the Office of Management and Budget, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Progressive States Network, the Service Employees International Union, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and the U.S. Departments of Energy, Labor, Commerce, Education, and Agriculture.
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:
Over the years, COWS has received vital funding from such sources as the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Carolyn Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Garfield Foundation, Living Cities, the Joyce Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Institute, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund, and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.