WMC Chief Says Retention Efforts Alone Not Enough to Solve Demographic Crisis
(Madison, WI) Wisconsin needs workers and to attract them the state needs to market itself as a great place to live and work to people in neighboring states in the same way it targets tourists. That is the message WMC President/CEO Kurt R. Bauer delivered today in Madison before about 400 people as part of his annual State of Wisconsin Business and Industry Report.
Bauer reviewed state economic metrics, including the state’s fiscal condition, business confidence and unemployment. He rated the state’s fiscal condition as “stable, but vulnerable” noting, among other things, a strong public pension system, record rainy day fund balance and $5 billion in taxpayer savings attributed to Act 10. But Bauer said federal policies were holding the state back and that global economic and geopolitical conditions were a concern.
Bauer cited a recent WMC survey showing 80 percent of state business leaders believe the state is headed in the right direction. He called that a “strong endorsement of Governor Scott Walker’s and the current legislature’s policies.”
Bauer also called the state’s 4.2 percent unemployment rate “good, but with an asterisk.” According to the same WMC survey, 70 percent of Wisconsin business executives complain they can’t find workers. Another survey shows 73 percent of local chamber of commerce executives say finding workers is their community’s biggest challenge. Demographers project the state’s worker shortage will only get worse as Baby boomers, who dominate the workforce, continue to approach and reach retirement age.
“People are your workforce, consumers and taxpayers,” Bauer said. “Wisconsin will have less of all three and the consequences are economic stagnation at best and contraction at worse.” He said the worker shortage will be felt in every part of the state, but will be most pronounced in rural areas.
Bauer praised efforts by government and education leaders to retain young people entering the workforce and other workers who may have been dislocated or are underemployed. More internships, apprenticeships and programs to expose young people to the jobs Wisconsin’s economy is actually creating are critical, he said. So are training and education grants, like Fast Forward. Bauer also said that dual enrollment for high school students in technical colleges is another retention program that is working and should be expanded.
“But even if we build a wall around the state to keep everyone here from leaving, Wisconsin will still have a workforce shortage unless we can attract people from outside the state to come in,” Bauer said. “We can’t control federal immigration policy, but we can target states like Illinois and Minnesota for a marketing campaign that touts Wisconsin’s low cost of living, high quality of life, great schools, vibrant communities, short commute times and beautiful scenery.”
Bauer said Illinois is probably Wisconsin’s best opportunity to lure people across the border given a recent poll by Southern Illinois University showed 47 percent of residents want to leave the Land of Lincoln. The poll cited high taxes, weather, government and jobs as the reasons why Illinoisans are discontent.
But Bauer said Minnesota might also be a target rich environment noting the state already has a negative migration pattern and rising costs that could be exploited
“Wisconsin businesses are growing and expanding because of our improved business climate built on tax cuts, regulation relief and lawsuit reform,” Bauer said. “But we need to have more workers to fill the jobs that are being created in our improved business climate.”
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Founded in 1911, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) is the combined state chamber of commerce, manufacturers’ association and safety council. WMC represents 3,800 employers of all sizes and from every sector of the economy.