The Problem: Every day, Wisconsin is in competition with 49 other states and many other countries to attract good high-paying jobs. Historically, the general approach to economic development embraced by states across the country has been to focus the state’s economic development subsidies on businesses to entice them to locate or expand in their state. Now, we face a different economic challenge—there are many more jobs than we have workers. Therefore, we should adjust our strategy to reflect this new economic reality.
The Solution: The smart economic development strategy for Wisconsin’s future is to focus state resources on increasing the skills of our workforce and attracting workers with needed skills to the state. In this new economic environment, businesses will come to the state with the best-trained workers. Though some of the millions of dollars in state tax credits at the Wisconsin Economic Development Commission are presently used for worker training programs, we should be devoting the largest share of them to pay for increasing the skills of our workforce. In the future, if a big business might choose to leave Wisconsin for richer incentives offered by another state, at least the highly skilled workers would remain and local businesses facing workforce shortages would scoop them up.
Instead of chasing after businesses, we should be attracting workers to Wisconsin with lower taxes and a better place to live and raise a family. Unfortunately, the Evers administration has refused to implement the worker attraction program mandated by the legislature in the most recent state budget. We could also work with our state’s great colleges and universities to encourage their alums who moved out of state to return to Wisconsin to visit their families and to think about coming back for good. Over the years, our state has educated a lot of engineers, entrepreneurs, and scientists at a family-friendly price and many of them left to chase job opportunities in other states. We should use the Wisconsin Homecoming (see below) to welcome them back home to the small towns and big cities that miss them. They could help us fill our labor shortages and stay to raise their families closer to mom and dad, grandma and grandpa.
When state aid can provide the make-or-break difference between a large company staying or leaving Wisconsin, we absolutely ought to consider giving it help. In general, however, we should focus our state’s economic development resources on creating the best workforce in the nation right here in Wisconsin.