Andy Gronik spoke with to share the ideas and vision behind StageW. Listen to the full interview at or read the article below.

Stage W’s Gronik open to guv bid to promote ideas to improve state

Andy Gronik created StageW to promote great ideas to move Wisconsin forward.

And if that means running for public office, maybe even for guv, to make that happen, well, he can’t rule that out.

“If it’s necessary to get involved politically to see some of these ideas actually make a difference in the state of Wisconsin, from my perspective, nothing is off the table,” Gronik, 59, said in a new interview.

Already, Stage W has rolled out ideas to tackle student loan debt and to reimagine State Fair Park and the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee as part of an incubator for job creation. He’s also embarked on what he calls “KitchenTable Conversations” to bridge the political divisions he sees in Wisconsin and pitch his ideas.

He said some have already asked if he’s worried others will take the proposals StageW has put out and use them for their own purposes.

“My response has been, ‘Great,” Gronik said. “I mean how awesome would that be that someone likes the idea so much to grab it and run with it? And if at the end that benefits our state, I look at that as a success.”

As Dems look to the 2018 guv’s race, a number of names have floated from political circles as possible candidates. That includes state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, who has been making moves to lay the foundation for a run, and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, who dropped her bid for the Dem nomination in 2014 following a car wreck and finished a distant third in the 2012 party primary to challenge Gov. Scott Walker in the recall election. Former state Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, has been touring the state as he looks at a run, while insiders also have mentioned the likes of Dane County Exec Joe Parisi, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling and Jefferson County DA Susan Happ, who lost a bid for attorney general in 2014.

Insiders, though, also have wondered if someone from the private sector could emerge. Katherine Gehl, who was a fourth-generation president and CEO of Gehl Foods, has been mentioned, but said this month she’s essentially ruled out running in 2018 but may look at a future election. Kevin Conroy, the CEO of Exact Sciences, also has regularly been mentioned, but has been tied up with his business interests.

Gronik, meanwhile, said he largely hasn’t been political until now.

A check of the Ethics Commission’s online database turned up only two contributions. He gave $250 this year to Shilling, D-La Crosse, and another $250 to former Dem Rep. Mandy Wright, who lost her bid to win back her old Wausau-area seat.

After graduating from the University of Georgia and working for Quaker Oats, he went to work with his dad at his auction business that had a “part-time crew and a full-time secretary.” He told his father they needed to take the company national.

“It was one of those conversations on first day where I said, ‘OK, everything you’ve been doing for your life is wrong. If we’re going to grow this business in a meaningful way, here are all the things we need to do,’ and you can imagine how that conversation went,” Gronik said.

From there, he created several businesses, often working in business consulting. But he said his focus began to change in 2009 with the purchase of a $3.5 million home in Fox Point “that turned out to be raining on the inside and the outside.”

Not long after, he filed a federal lawsuit that was finally resolved a year ago, according to online records.

“The first thing I did was look up and say, all right, now’s my chance,” Gronik said. “When I look at Wisconsin and the fact that we’re not creating jobs and the people who are suffering as a result of limited options, that was a real motivator for me,” he said.

The resulted in the creation of StageW, a 501(c)(4) that Gronik said he has personally funded, though some small donations have come in. He said the organization was not created to get involved in campaigns, but to advocate for the ideas now being put forward.

That includes, for example, a proposal to allow new college graduates to have their state income taxes applied to their student loan debt. Under the proposal, new grads who work in Wisconsin uninterrupted for six months would be eligible to participate until their student loan debt was retired.

Gronik said it would act as an incentive to attract young people to Wisconsin and keep those who graduate from state schools. With an aging population, the state needs to keep young people here, Gronik added, and said he suspects chances are good those who participated would meet someone, put down roots, buy a house and stay.

“It’s really an idea that says, listen, a lot of that revenue, we’re not getting right now anyway,” Gronik said. “It’s not like you’re forgoing certain revenue. You’re attracting people to come to the state who aren’t coming here now.”

As for running for public office, Gronik said he’s a Democrat socially. But he also said he’s spent his “entire life helping businesses to succeed.” That, he said, gives him a very different background that allows him to walk into any business setting, sit down with the CEO and hash out ideas.

“Having been through thousands of plants all over the world with all kinds of different challenges, it uniquely qualifies me to understand what it is that makes business tick,” he said. “And for Democrats, it’s a different way of looking at how to solve problems. I look at business as part of the solution.”

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