HURLEY - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received numerous rounds of applause in a speech at Hurley Thursday, but the crowd didn't break into a standing ovation until he said he believes mining in Iron County can be done safely and in an "environmentally sound" manner.
Walker addressed the joint Hurley-Ironwood Area Chambers of Commerce awards banquet at the Iron County Memorial Building a day after delivering his state-of-the-state speech.
Those who expected a short speech were in for a surprise. Walker covered topics from the importance of preparing students for skilled jobs to the need for more logging on national forests in his fourth statewide appearance of the day.
Walker pointed out the badger mascot for the University of Wisconsin didn't originally refer to the furry critter in the woods, but to early miners, who were named badgers by native Americans.
"The Badger State should be open to safe and environmentally sound mining of our mineral deposits," he said, referring to the proposed iron mine near Upson. "We're the Badger State because our ancestors came here to mine," he said.
Walker said businesses across the state would benefit from an iron mine in Iron and Ashland counties and said the two counties need "sustainable, long-term jobs."
While he referred to Thursday news that the state's unemployment rate had fallen to 6.2 percent in December, he didn't mention that Iron County had the highest jobless rate in the state in November at 13.1 percent.
Walker said much of the $911 million in the state's budget surplus will go to relief for taxpayers and he said $100 million of the surplus will be placed in a rainy day fund.
"I want to give the money back to the taxpayers who earned it," he said.
He said the surplus is "no accident," but the result of "reforms and budget constraints," adding, "We want to keep it going."
Walker said an encouraging economic sign across the state is that the average income is increasing.
He said a state income tax rate cut of from 4.4 percent to 4 percent and reductions in withholding taxes on paychecks will save Wisconsin families money.
Walker said some lawmakers would like to see the surplus money stay in Madison. "I say no, it's your money," he said.
When he mentioned high schools working with technical colleges to prepare youngsters for specialized job fields, he hit a point of emphasis that the Hurley School District has been addressing for the past few years. "We need more highly skilled workers," he said.
Walker said he met with President Obama recently and Walker talked about the need to prepare workers for skilled jobs.
With many Baby Boomers retiring, Walker said there will be jobs for youngsters who have acquired specialized work skills, many in manufacturing.
"Tool-and-dye workers are as important as lawyers and doctors," he said.
Many in the crowd probably thought of the Highline Corporation in Hurley when he mentioned tapping the resources that developmentally disabled people can provide.
"There's a lot of good things happening in the state," Walker said.
He said he's committed to Iron County and thanked Gogebic Taconite for committing to mining in this part of the state. "I think great things can happen here," he said.
Walker said the state invested money in tourism during tough times and it has paid off in increased income.
Regarding national forests, he said more "sustainable management" would reduce the chance of major fires and help local loggers. He told the Daily Globe he'd like to work with the federal government to get more private loggers into the national forests and would commit state money to do so.
Walker also referred several times to the importance of broadband access to northern Wisconsin counties.
Surprisingly, he said the crowd of about 200 was one of the biggest he has addressed.