Marketing Wisconsin, incentives and immigration among recommendations in WMC workforce report

Future Wisconsin Project report includes 30 suggestions for state

Last updated on July 1st, 2019 at 10:42 am

The Future Wisconsin Project on Friday unveiled a report with 30 recommendations for the state to address its workforce challenges, including continuing talent attraction campaigns, incentivizing people to move to the state and fostering more immigration.

The project is an initiative of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Foundation. Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of WMC, said the project is meant to be a mechanism that brings together a range of stakeholders to address pressing issues in the state.

“The most pressing has been, of course, workforce,” Bauer said.

Wisconsin’s working age population is projected to be flat to slightly down by 2040 and the number of residents between the ages of 25 and 44 has already fallen from 1.58 million in 2000 to 1.43 million in 2017. Bauer said the state’s challenges are the result of a lower birth rate and historically being a net out migration state.

“You just do the math and you realize you’re going to have a workforce challenge at some point in the future and that some point is now,” he said. “It’s going to continue through mid-century and beyond unless there are some dynamic changes.”

Bauer said the report’s recommendations break down into three groups, attracting people to Wisconsin, keeping workers in the state and reintegrating people into the workforce.

“There’s not one thing. This is a very complicated problem caused by a variety of different things,” he said.

While any one of the report’s recommendations might move the needle, Bauer said they are all needed in some form because “we need (the needle) to move a lot.”

Still, if there was one recommendation for the state to move forward on, Bauer said it would be the continuation of talent attraction marketing campaigns started last year by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

“We have to tell our story because no one is going to tell it for us,” he said.

Last year, lawmakers approved $6.8 million for WEDC to launch a marketing campaign targeting Midwest millennials, alumni of colleges and universities in Wisconsin and veterans. The agency also used some existing funding to launch a marketing campaign in Chicago.

WEDC’s budget request for the upcoming biennium sought $5 million annually to continue the program, but Gov. Tony Evers did not include the funding in his proposed budget. A spokeswoman for the governor said the budget makes investments in education, transportation and economic development that will help attract and retain workers.

Bauer said he understand that approach but contended the state needs to market itself to attract new residents.

“You can have the best community, quality of life, schools, transportation system, all of the above and if nobody knows about it, that’s going to be a problem for you when you just don’t have enough people,” he said.

The report also includes a number of recommendations that would create incentives for people to move to or stay in the state. These include programs potentially targeting a variety of skills, paid internships and the creation of new apprenticeship programs.

Bauer said those recommendations are intended to be conversation starters for ideas like tax credits or college debt forgiveness.

“We’re going to have to be creative. We’re going to have to be innovative in order to draw people in,” he said, noting workforce shortages are a growing problem across the Midwest and even globally.

The report also recommends increasing “regional efforts to encourage diversity and become more welcoming communities for foreign immigrants and other potential new residents.”

“I think the business community needs to step up and make sure we’re educating primarily our federal lawmakers on the importance of international immigration,” Bauer said, noting his group favors comprehensive immigration reform that addresses workforce needs.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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