WEDC launches $1 million advertising campaign (copy)

Kelly Lietz, WEDC's vice president for marketing and brand strategy, oversaw development of a $1 million advertising campaign aimed at luring millennials to Wisconsin from Chicago.

This happens a lot nowadays.

When Wisconsin's name comes up in news stories or is mentioned in a nationally recognized column, it often isn't in a flattering context.

For instance, just the other day New York Times columnist Gail Collins referenced Wisconsin as she wrote about a House committee approving a bill that would make it impossible for states to impose their rules about carrying concealed weapons on people who are visiting from someplace else.

"Instead, we're supposed to respect the judgment of the state whence they came," she wrote. "People, do you have this kind of confidence? We are having this conversation two weeks after Wisconsin eliminated the age limit for hunting licenses. So far there are 1,800 happy Wisconsinites under the age of 10 with the right to put their little fingers on the trigger, several less than a year old."

More recently there's been the recognition the state has received as the giant high-tech assembler Foxconn announced plans to quickly fill 26 acres of wetlands on its Mount Pleasant building site in Racine County, all perfectly legal because Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature exempted the corporation from having to abide by many state environmental regulations.

The story got big play around the country as it was picked up by the Associated Press, Reuters, ABC News and several national websites that advocate for the preservation of wetlands and the protection of natural resources.

There's been a steady stream of similar stories that aren't necessarily viewed as positive ever since Walker and the GOP gained control of state government. The attacks on school teachers and unions contained in Act 10, the dismissal of public transportation as a waste of money, the denigration of higher education as elitist and out of touch, and the relentless attacks on women's health rights may play well with Walker's base, but they've turned the state's national reputation as a laboratory of new ideas and enlightened thought — a hallmark of Wisconsin for at least the past century — completely on its head.

There are no offsetting stories about how all this has rejuvenated the state's economy and added jobs — because it hasn't. While unemployment is down, taxes are flat and there are more jobs, the record isn't any better, and in some cases it's worse, than in other states that haven't had to resort to similar extremes.

So perhaps the real reason that the so-called millennial generation isn't flocking to Wisconsin has nothing to do with Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce's hokey explanation that the state is a place known for bars, cows and cheese.

Wisconsin has always been known as America's Dairyland and never been shy about being home to an ample population of beer drinkers and cheese eaters. But it has also been historically known for great education, its above-average transportation system, its pampered lakes and parks, and, above all, its clean and enlightened government that served as an example for much of the rest of the country.

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And we didn't need to spend $7 million buying advertisements to tell people that. That was the Wisconsin that national news stories and prominent columnists used to describe all the time.

Unfortunately, that's changed.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. Zweifel is the co-author, along with John Nichols, of the new book "The Capital Times: A Proudly Radical Newspaper's Century Long Fight for Justice and Peace," published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's available on the Historical Society website, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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Dave is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.