Starting July 1, Jim Paetsch will take over as executive director of Milwaukee 7, the regional economic development entity that covers southeastern Wisconsin.
Paetsch has been with M7 since it was started in 2005, but his work has primarily focused on corporate attraction and expansion. He doesn’t expect much of his job will change when it comes to trying to encourage companies to locate and expand in southeastern Wisconsin, but his new role will see him more involved in strategy and other aspects of the organization.
One of the other areas M7 works in is talent attraction and development, an issue that was increasingly important prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and is back in the spotlight as businesses lament their inability to find workers as the economy continues to recover.
Paetsch joined associate editor Arthur Thomas on the BizTimes MKE Podcast to talk about the work of corporate attraction, workforce development and the direction of M7. He also addressed the use of tax incentives, an often-criticized part of economic development work.
Paetsch said a common thread M7 has heard from companies since the mid-2000s is a question of whether or not companies can find the employees they need to be successful. But he added there has been an evolution in the kind of talent companies are seeking with an increasingly greater emphasis on white-collar, technical talent. At the same time, he said M7 needs to work to make sure there are opportunities up and down the skill spectrum.
With many employers finding it difficult to recruit and retain employees, it might seem counter intuitive for M7 to continue to focus on bringing companies into the region. Paetsch acknowledged there is a tension between attracting companies and the available workforce for companies in the region.
“It’s not a perfect process,” he said, explaining that the goal is to create more economic opportunities for people, which in turn should attract more people to the region.
“Every single region, there’s nobody that thinks they have this figured out, the talent piece of it,” Paetsch said, describing workforce development as the most humbling part of economic development. “It is not an easy thing to do.”
He also addressed the use of economic incentives, noting reasonable people can disagree on whether they should be part of economic development. However, he also pointed out every region uses them and so going without them would require essentially disarming.
“If we disarm, we can just expect to lose,” he said, adding that would mean losing out on the jobs and other economic benefits that come with corporate expansion projects.
“As (companies) think about where to make investments, there’s a business case that has to be made and it’s competitive,” Paetsch said.
To hear more from Paetsch, listen to the full episode in the player above or find the BizTimes MKE Podcast on Apple or Spotify.