Wisconsin Receives Mixed Marks in Nationwide Perception Study

(Madison, WI) What do others think of Wisconsin and what do we think of ourselves? That was the goal of a recent nationwide perception survey conducted by the University of Wisconsin for the Future Wisconsin Project, a 20-year economic planning initiative sponsored by the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Foundation. The survey connects the project’s goal of establishing the state’s brand and understanding what it takes to attract talent to Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s reality and perception align on many items but the state has a few blind spots. Wisconsin is affordable, safe and a great place to enjoy outdoor recreation. But it is also viewed as cold, socially intolerant and lacking in job opportunities.

The survey of over 2,000 Americans from all 50 states was conducted as a result of last year’s Future Wisconsin Economic Summit where it became clear that the Badger State has an image problem that hurts the retention of its existing population, especially young people. That image also negatively impacts attracting people from outside the state who might otherwise be convinced to move to Wisconsin to address a declining workforce.

The people surveyed from outside the state see Wisconsin as a leader in community, parks/recreation and quality of life. Their most positive perceptions of the state include access to the outdoors and natural resources, cost of living and sports/recreation.

They also say that the most important attributes in selecting a state to live in are job opportunity, crime/public safety and wage/salary expectations and education. Unfortunately, Wisconsin scores low in two of those four categories, according to the survey. When asked to rank Wisconsin’s negative perceptions, the top four were climate, job opportunities, wage/salary expectations and social tolerance.

“Given that most people decide to move from one place to another (migration/immigration) in search of economic opportunity and they rate Wisconsin low as a place to find that opportunity, then the state has a big problem,” says Jim Morgan, president of the WMC Foundation, the research arm of the State Chamber of Commerce. “Wisconsin is actually well-positioned with a diverse economy and jobs available in all industries, but out-of-staters don’t know that.”
Those unflattering perceptions may be based on misinformation of the kinds of jobs/careers available in the state. The survey shows that non-Wisconsinites believe that agricultural-related jobs are the most plentiful in the state. The fact that we are called America’s Dairyland and residents are referred to as Cheeseheads may fuel that misperception. Out-of-staters also believe that Wisconsin has jobs in education, health care and manufacturing, according to the survey.

On the bright side, survey respondents rated Wisconsin positively in education, crime/public safety, cost of living and commute times when asked where Wisconsin ranks as a place to live.

“There are positives to build on,” said Morgan. “We rate highly in important areas like quality of life and cost of living. We are also known for good schools and natural beauty. But, we don’t just want to be a place to visit on vacation. We want people to know that Wisconsin is a great place to live, work and to raise your family.”

The survey was conducted in October and November by the Wisconsin Technology Council and UW-Madison.

To view the complete perception survey data, please click here.