It’s not that respondents in the semi-annual Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce survey see Wisconsin’s economy as weak, in fact a majority still say it is still strong, but their view has certainly soured since the last survey. Last summer, 78% of respondents said the state economy was strong or very strong and 19% said it was moderate. In the latest survey, released Wednesday morning, 58% said it is strong or very strong while 36% described it as moderate. Views of the U.S. economy remained slightly stronger than Wisconsin with 65% of respondents seeing the national economy as strong, down from 77% in the summer. Respondents continued to see a lack of available workforce as their biggest challenge heading into 2020. WMC found 75% of respondents reported having trouble finding workers, a figure that has been above 65% in every survey dating back to summer 2015. “Workforce is the defining economic issue in Wisconsin and will be until we figure out a way to attract the workers employees need as Baby boomers continue to reach retirement age,” said Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of WMC. Asked about what companies are doing to attract workers, 62% said they are offering flexible work schedules, 53% offer a flexible dress code, 44% offer staff events and programming like planned lunches and social events, 41% have physical wellness programs like gym memberships and nutritional coaching and 41% said they have made time off changes like increased vacation time and maternity/paternity leave. WMC also said 56% of respondents reported having some time of work from home policy. “I am not surprised to see companies adopting these types of tactics,” Bauer said. “As an employer in a city with a very low unemployment rate, WMC has embraced many of the same things.” The survey also found 45% of employers are planning wage increases of 3% to 3.5%, up from 38% in the winter 2019 survey. That figure was down from the summer survey when 49% planned that size increase, but the percentage planning an even larger increase went from 11% to 14%. WMC cautioned that some wage gains may be offset by rising health care costs, noting 77% of respondents said costs increased from 2019 to 2020. Two-thirds of employers said they were addressing those costs with increased employee contribution while 19% said they had to reduce benefits.