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.

MATTHEW DeFOUR, Wisconsin State Journal

Gov. Scott Walker announced Wednesday he is seeking $6.8 million from the Legislature this session for a campaign to market Wisconsin to young workers and veterans in other states.

The proposal was part of what Walker described to business leaders at a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce event in Madison as a three-pronged strategy for addressing the state’s workforce needs: increasing worker training, removing barriers to work, and attracting and retaining new talent.

Walker said excitement has been building in Wisconsin about the decision by companies such as Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn and German candymaker Haribo to locate in the state, but “instead of just taking more employers in, we’ve got to harness that excitement to bring in more employees.”

The proposal comes as Wisconsin is facing a worker shortage, a growing challenge the Wisconsin State Journal highlighted in September, and also as Foxconn begins to construct a $10 billion facility in Racine County with a record $3 billion investment in state tax credits with the potential to create up to 13,000 high-tech manufacturing jobs.

The funding Walker is proposing would be a boost for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.’s “Think, Make, Happen” campaign, which has been planning to launch a $1 million three-month advertising campaign in Chicago starting in January with existing agency funds.

However it would be far less than what other states have spent to market their states to businesses, workers and tourists. The Pure Michigan branding campaign, with an annual $34 million budget, estimates it drew 4 million visitors to the state with an economic impact of $1.2 billion in 2013.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he supports Walker’s proposal and looks forward to hearing more about it when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

“Our reforms have improved our business climate to the point where we have more jobs to be filled than workers to fill them,” Fitzgerald said. “We should welcome an influx of new taxpayers and homebuyers that will add fuel to our economic engine.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he is interested in the proposal and that Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah, has been working on something similar since last summer.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in a statement that Walker should consider how his own policies have affected where young people choose to live.

“Millennials are increasingly choosing to live in states that invest in public transit, promote workplace flexibility and support student loan debt relief,” Shilling said.

Rep. Dana Wachs, an Eau Claire Democrat vying to take on Walker in next year’s gubernatorial race, said Walker’s proposal would spend millions of taxpayer dollars to recruit workers to the state to work for Foxconn, which has already received a $3 billion state tax credit incentive to locate here.

“Gov. Walker sold a bill of goods to the Wisconsin public by saying it would create new jobs for Wisconsinites,” Wachs said. “Apparently, what he really means was that the jobs would go to workers from Chicago.”

WEDC has been planning to launch in January a marketing campaign focused on young workers in the Midwest, alumni from the University of Wisconsin and other Wisconsin colleges. The campaign plans to highlight the state’s lower cost of living and shorter commute times than in big cities such as Chicago.

WEDC chief operating officer Tricia Braun said the campaign will include ads placed on the side of one Chicago commuter train and on train platform screens with messages such as “In Wisconsin you’d be home by now.”

Braun said of the $6.8 million Walker is requesting, $3 million would expand the Chicago marketing campaign and extend it to other cities such as Minneapolis and Detroit. The other $3.8 million would fund a mobile jobs center and job fair booth that would travel to veteran recruiting events around the country.

Walker said Wisconsin provides more benefits to veterans than any other state, saying “we haven’t done enough to tell veterans elsewhere about what’s available in the state.”

His office pointed to data from the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs showing Wisconsin provides 23 different benefits, more than any other state. That’s a measurement of how many different programs are available, though not the average dollar amount of benefits veterans receive in each state, which is unclear.