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By Dave Umhoefer April 13, 2012

Democrat Kathleen Falk says under her leadership Dane County topped other areas in job growth

Democrat Kathleen Falk’s rejoinder to criticism that unemployment tripled during her time as Dane County executive is that she helped create thousands of new jobs.

She fleshed out her boast in a campaign TV ad in advance of the May 8, 2012 recall primary. The Democratic winner will face Republican Gov. Scott Walker opponent in the June 5, 2012 recall election.

Talking directly into the camera about honesty and transparency and her governing style, Falk says: "For 14 years I’ve brought people together to solve tough problems. Together we added more jobs than any other area, while holding taxes down. That’s the Wisconsin way, and that’s the governor I’ll be."

In an earlier item we found the Dane County unemployment rate -- though it was notably low among the state’s counties -- tripled during her tenure, as the Republican Governors Association claimed. But it was not all due to her policies.

(A new Walker campaign ad against Falk hammers on the same unemployment figures).

But if unemployment tripled, could Dane County have really posted the best record in the state on creating jobs?

In the ad, Falk does not specify what types of jobs, but we’ll examine  private and public sector ones from March 1997 to April 2011, Falk’s tenure as executive. We’ll compare it to other counties and to metropolitan areas, since she used "other areas" as her measuring stick.

If you look at the raw change in jobs numbers for Wisconsin counties in that period, Dane County -- home to fast-growing Madison --  did add "more jobs than any other area." The net gain of all jobs was 48,000 jobs, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Of course, Dane County is home to much of state government and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Even if you take out public-sector jobs, Dane County led the way with 34,000 new jobs.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee County ranked last, losing 43,000 jobs of all types. For part of that time, Falk’s top Democratic rival in the recall, Tom Barrett, was mayor of Milwaukee (2004 to present). And Walker was Milwaukee County executive (2002-10).

When we looked at the broader metro areas analyzed by the Bureau of labor Statistics, the Dane County area -- a three-county "metropolitan statistical area" defined by the federal government -- ranked #1 in private job growth and all job growth.

What about as a percentage growth?

Falk didn’t say "fastest growing," but the county still fares well by that measure. Dane saw 19 percent growth, ranking 10th out of 72 counties, and tops among the counties over with more than 100,000 residents.

Of course, jobs are measured differently than unemployment. And in this case, the seeming contradiction -- more unemployment amid more jobs -- can be explained largely by the workforce growing faster than those jobs were created.

So Falk is on target on jobs added.

But just as in our evaluations on job loss and relative blame, there is more than the statistical side to the claim. Falk credited herself and the efforts to pull people together as the reason for the growth.

Is that alone responsible?

Of course not.

When we rated Half True a Republican Governors Association claim concerning unemployment under Barrett, we noted mayors have some role on job creation programs but that state and national economic trends influence local employment trends to a far greater extent.

The same holds true of Falk, who ran a county. In the Half True rating on a similar claim by the RGA on unemployment tripling under her watch, we felt that assigned too much blame to her.

The converse is true here; Falk takes too much credit.

Her campaign argues Falk deserves credit on job creation because she got federal dollars for infrastructure and community development, created a foreign trade zone to aid export-import opportunities and supported an early childhood program that helps working parents enter the workforce, among other initiatives.

We haven’t examined the details of each of those moves, but even if Falk deserves sole credit for all of them, they are certainly not the main drivers of job numbers.

In sum, Falk correctly brags about Dane County’s standout record on job creation during her tenure, but exaggerates her role in the trend.

We rate this claim Half True.

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