The perfect storm

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We covered a range of topics, from his assessment Milwaukee Public Schools to the propensity for Milwaukee to be risk adverse.
Not surprisingly, George and I moved to talking about the often-discussed topic of Wisconsin’s brain drain/gain. As noted hundreds of times, we are quickly approaching a time where there will be a significant decline in the number of young workers, due largely to a drop in the number of births a few years ago.
Combine this fact with the increase in the amount of communities across the country that realize they need to project an attractive image to net that young person, and we are plunging into a so-called "perfect storm."
If you haven’t noticed, there has been a major paradigm shift with respect to how today’s young talent find a job. When I graduated from college nearly 25 years ago, you scrambled to find a job. Once you found one, the job dictated where you lived.
Today, make a 180-degree-turn. It is true, young people today are first deciding where they want to live and are confident they will find a job in that place. They live and breathe the phrase "No Fear."
There are some that think the key to making a place attractive for that young person is to simply lower taxes and create great job prospects. Great idea, but if you simply rest your case on these traditional economic development formulas, then you have only added half of the ingredients in your quest to attract talent and, maybe, not even the right ingredients.
As an example, step into the shoes of the 25-year-old hot shot, and we might realize lower property taxes are the furthest thing from that person’s mind, for no other reason than the fact he or she doesn’t own any property. "Out of sight, out of mind."
Yes, someday that may be important, but right now, it is time to live for the moment and to the fullest.
So what’s the ticket? Just like the latest images that are created by MTV, movies or ads on television, communities need to develop a strong, upbeat image. An image that proclaims we are "cool" without actually having to say the word.
What is cool? A bold arts and cultural scene, a vibrant music industry that includes great radio, eclectic retail stores, farmers markets, efficient mass transit, etc.
For the young entrepreneur, the last place they are headed is to a place that is viewed as being "old" and unfriendly to new creative ideas and people. Not only are they seeking communities that are invigorating, but they also want to work in a place where their career can be on the fast track. One young accomplished person I recently spoke with gave me a sense of frustration because she wasn’t moving fast enough in her career – she was about to turn 30.
Communities that are open-minded and embrace the unique qualities and attributes of entrepreneurs and pioneers are also the same places that willingly accept and engage people of all cultures, another ticket to successfully attracting talent.
Today’s young people expect to live and work in places where the welcome mat is out for EVERYONE. This is not only critical now, but even more so, in the next few years.
That leads me back to my conversation with George Lightbourn and the "perfect storm" that is poised to occur because of a decreasing pool of talent and an increasing competition between cities and regions.
George Lightbourn thinks that one of the answers is importing twenty-something’s from Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, etc. But remember, when you attract that worker from abroad, they will bring with them their different cultures, religions, languages and appearances.
For Milwaukee and Wisconsin, the question is whether the welcome mat will be out for them. If it is, we can come full circle and be on the leading edge of the brain gain scenario for the young talent from the United States.
The bottom line is that we must not apply the talent recruitment principals of the 1960s, 70’s or 80’s, but instead tune into the hopes, dreams and expectations of today’s young people. It is about having great opportunities, but it is also about presenting an inviting image backed up by reality.
Dean Amhaus is the president of the Spirit of Milwaukee, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing Milwaukee’s image. He has served as the president of Forward Wisconsin, the state’s economic development organization, and executive director of the Wisconsin Sesquicentennial Commission.

April 11, 2004 Small Business Times Milwaukee, WI

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