Scott Walker seeking $6.8 million from Legislature to market state to young workers

Gov. Scott Walker, speaking to a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce event in Madison on Wednesday, is seeking $6.8 million to market Wisconsin to new workers.

Gov. Scott Walker says that Wisconsin doesn’t have enough workers, and he’s proposing a marketing campaign to change that.

“We need more bodies,” Gov. Scott Walker said last week as he explained the $6.8 million effort to court millennials and veterans.

Tricia Braun, chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), appeared on a recent episode of “UpFront with Mike Gousha” to explain the new marketing plan, which she said was about addressing the statewide “body gap” and finding “a way that we can talk about Wisconsin differently, that’s more attractive.”

Walker has pointed to a shortage of skilled workers to explain slower-than-expected job creation.

"My number one problem in my state is workforce," Walker said in 2016. "My big problem is how to fill those jobs ... I still don't have enough workers."

The recently approved plan to build a Foxconn plant in Mount Pleasant comes with the potential to employ 13,000 people. Walker said that makes the effort to attract workers especially crucial.

But Walker's solution has been criticized by some Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse), who appeared on a separate segment of “UpFront.” She said the effort “appears desperate.”

Young people want workplace flexibility, refinance student loan debt, urban revitalization and mass transit — things they won’t find under Walker’s policies, she said.

“Time after time after time, we have seen those issues ignored or we have seen drastic cuts to them,” she said. “I think it’s a weak attempt.”

Host Mike Gousha said that critics have argued that the $6.8 million could be spent training current Wisconsin residents to be skilled workers.

"There has to be a way to create opportunities for people that live in the city of Milwaukee to access some of the opportunities that are available,” Dorothy Walker, interim dean of the technology and applied science division at Milwaukee Area Technical College, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel prior to the announcement of the marketing campaign. 

Braun argued that it’s not an either-or situation. The government can support education and businesses, and try to attract new talent at the same time, she said. 

“(Walker)’s really trying to address the talent issue from multiple fronts,” she said. “We’re not taking away from anything that’s already being done,”

The $6.8 million would be spent on a traveling job fair booth targeting veterans, a mobile jobs center, and a WEDC marketing campaign called “Think, Make, Happen.” That campaign is already slated to begin in Chicago early next year with WEDC funds, but Walker's plan would provide money to send the project to cities like Detroit and Minneapolis as well.

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Before creating the campaign, Braun said WEDC talked to young professionals and conducted a survey to find out “what Wisconsin means to a millennial.”

Millennials are a prime target of the campaign because they’re a “ready-and-able to work, trained workforce, that if we can bring them here, we can plug them right into our economy,” Braun said.

WEDC learned that once transplants arrived in Wisconsin, they liked it, and were less likely to move away than their counterparts in other states. Former Chicago residents highlighted the shorter commute times, lower cost of living, and outdoor recreational amenities the state offered.

But among those living outside the state, a WEDC survey found those individuals were really only familiar with the “stereotypical notions” of the state.

“When you ask someone what they think of Wisconsin and they only think of beer, cheese and Packers football,” Braun said. “We’re coming up short in that area, we have to do a better job of promoting the state.”

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch told the Wisconsin State Journal earlier this year that Wisconsin needs to be recognized for more than "beer and cows."

"We're biomedical. We're aviation and aerospace. And now (with the pending arrival of Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn) we're LCD and software and the cutting edge of information and internet and high-end technology," she said.