Walker says skills gap will hold back tri-state economy

Walker touts fresh water as key asset


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker believes one of the challenges that will continue to face Wisconsin and the tri-state region is the skills gap that has plagued the region for several years.

“Low taxes, reasonable regulations are all nice things to have, but infrastructure, energy and workforce are must haves,” Walker said. “If you don’t have enough workers, companies just won’t work here.”

Walker was the keynote speaker Friday afternoon at the third annual Summit on Regional Competitiveness at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Walker said he was encouraged to see Wisconsin’s unemployment rate hit a 14-year low of 4.3 percent in September and noted labor participation in Wisconsin is 5 percent higher than it is nationally, but said the challenge for employers continues to be finding enough qualified people to fill open positions.

Manufacturers are forced to turn down work because they can’t find employees to take on the jobs, Walker said.

“It’s not just manufacturing, it’s  IT, finance, accounting, health care, construction and transportation,” Walker said. “What I hear is it’s not just about workforce development, it’s economic development.”

During his 35-minute speech, Walker also talked about trade, transportation and water, which was a common theme throughout the day, with many of the speakers from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin paying compliments to the Milwaukee Water Council.

Walker noted  there are at least 160 cities in China that have more than 1 million people, so compared to the world, major Midwestern cities including Chicago, Milwaukee and Gary, Ind., are small and need to bind together to make a global impact.

He said one of the great assets the region has is Lake Michigan and the tri-state area should continue to leverage the clean water natural resource that binds the region.

“The water council has now elevated itself beyond Wisconsin,” Walker said. “Just in our state alone we have more than 300 companies related to water. China and India don’t have clean water. We have an abundance of it and we have experts in that intellectual property.”

When asked if he would run for president again in four years, Walker “carefully ignored” the question.

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