State needs more population growth


In recent years, our publication has done numerous reports on the worker shortage challenge facing area companies.

Recent government data demonstrates the problem for Wisconsin’s economy.

The state’s unemployment rate reached a record low of 2.9 percent in February. Obviously, that’s good news. But for businesses in the state seeking skilled employees, the low unemployment rate demonstrates how shallow the labor pool is in Wisconsin. To compete for workers, Wisconsin companies are going to have to increase wages; but even then, good people are going to continue to be hard to find.

We know that by looking at the lack of population growth in the state, which is an area of serious concern.

Wisconsin’s population has risen only 1.9 percent since 2010, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The state added 22,566 residents since a year ago, an increase of only 0.39 percent.

Compared to other states, Wisconsin is in the lower half for population growth. The state’s population growth ranks 40th since 2010 and was 30th in 2017. Seven states – Texas, North Dakota, Utah, Florida, Colorado, Nevada and Washington – and the District of Columbia have seen double-digit percentage increases in their population since 2010.

The metro Milwaukee area’s population has grown only 1.3 percent since 2010. By comparison, 63 metro areas in the country have seen double-digit percentage increases in population since then. Metro Milwaukee’s 1.31 percent increase was only the 269th-largest population increase out of 382 metro areas.

Despite an aggressive pro-business strategy by Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Legislature, the state’s economic growth has remained sluggish. The state’s economy has still not added 250,000 jobs since Walker was elected, which was a campaign promise for his first term. Job creation in the state has lagged the national average, as has the state’s GDP growth.

The lack of population growth in Wisconsin is a major reason for the state’s modest economic growth. Human beings provide the workers and consumers that drive the economy. How can we achieve our economic growth goals without growing our population?

Furthermore, how do we improve the state’s population growth? Our cold winters sure don’t help, but there’s nothing we can do about that. State government is already taking a pro-economic growth approach.

Lawmakers recently approved $6.8 million for a marketing plan aimed at convincing Midwest millennials, veterans and alumni of Wisconsin universities to move to the state.

But the state needs more than just a marketing plan to attract more residents. Support for Wisconsin’s public and private universities is vital, because they attract and develop talent. And Wisconsin needs to be a welcome place for all types of newcomers, including immigrants.

To grow its economy, Wisconsin needs to roll out the welcome mat.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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