Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold is calling on the federal government to make a commitment to making college — especially community and technical colleges — more affordable.
Feingold, campaigning to get his old job back from Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, connected affordable college and training to job creation and better employment opportunities Friday during a tour of the Coulee Region Business Center on La Crosse’s North Side.
“We have to make it clear that the federal government will play its role in making that affordable and possible for these young people,” Feingold said. “People want it, communities want it and businesses want it to expand.”
Those businesses have good jobs available for those with the training to fill the positions, he said.
“There are jobs to be had in the state, but we have to make that linkage to make it affordable for young people coming out of high school, coming out of college to make that link and get that training,” Feingold said.
Feingold toured several workspaces in the business center, including San Graal Guitars, owned by Bruno Jacquet of La Crosse.
Jacquet, a French native who moved to La Crosse in 1996, designs and builds electric guitars, partnering classic acoustic sound with new technology. He said it was a “treat” to meet the candidate to discuss his business, which moved to the center in September.
“I wanted him to see that someone from another country can take something that originated as part of the American story and take it even further than it is now,” Jacquet said.
Heather Johnson, manager of the Coulee Region Business Center, shared the center’s expansion plans with Feingold, saying it plans to bring in more light industrial businesses throughout this year.
“We do not have a community-designated production place, which is what we’re looking to add,” Johnson said.
Johnson hopes to see an increase in federal support for low-interest small business loans and grants for entrepreneurs, which she said would improve funding options.
“That’s probably the biggest issue most of them have,” Johnson said.
Feingold also spoke about the importance of making sure families have money to spend.
“Nothing is worse for a business that’s trying to sell lunch, that’s trying to sell a guitar, or certainly if you’re trying to sell somebody a t-shirt, nothing is worse than if people don’t have any expendable income,” Feingold said.
Feingold said the best thing the government could do for small businesses is create an economy that allows “regular families that work hard every week” to have more to spend.
Feingold touched on the presidential campaign during his visit, declining to speak in favor of any specific candidate but praising his fellow Democrats’ professionalism and economic policy.
Feingold said he “basically agrees” with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley when it comes to the need to create an economy that benefits the middle class and working families, addressing concerns such as long-term health care, college education and daycare costs.
“It’s very hard to put this together, and I think all of our candidates understand it better than those who believe that somehow just making sure the rich are richer is going to trickle down to the rest of us. It doesn’t usually happen like that,” Feingold said.