By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker wants to start a nearly $7 million national marketing campaign to persuade millennials and military veterans to move to his state to help with a worker shortage.
Walker on Wednesday called on the Legislature to approve funding for the ad campaign before the end of the current session, in early 2018. He said the marketing campaign would pitch Wisconsin as a more affordable place for millennials to live, a place where they could be spending more time in a canoe, having a drink with friends or attending a concert, rather than sitting in traffic.
Walker announced the marketing effort at the Future Wisconsin Summit, an annual meeting that’s organized by the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Foundation to bring together various business leaders.
Walker said it was “critically important” to “get more bodies” in Wisconsin. The campaign would include $3.5 million for ads targeting military veterans and their families. A separate $3 million would be used to market Wisconsin as a destination for young professionals, particularly those already living in nearby the Midwest cities of Detroit, Minneapolis and Chicago, Walker said.
The effort would most likely start after an already funded $1 million ad campaign targeting University of Wisconsin alumni and millennials living in Chicago, said Tricia Braun, chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. That campaign is scheduled to run January through March. The hope is the expanded campaign Walker announced on Wednesday would begin shortly after that, she said.
Ads running in that campaign, including a wrap of a Chicago Transit Authority train, emphasize Wisconsin’s low commute time to work, access to natural resources and quality of life.
Walker is also calling for an additional $300,000 to be used to develop a mobile job-resource center that could provide services and recruitment in areas in rural Wisconsin.
“It’s not enough to just give speeches and talks, we have to put a whole campaign behind this,” Walker said.
Part of the effort would be to woo back young adults who attended college in Wisconsin. The key time to reach them is four or five years after graduation, when they start thinking about where they want to live long term and raise children, Walker said.
The push to attract more workers comes as Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group proceeds with its plan to open a display-screen factory between Milwaukee and Chicago. The factory is exepcted to employ up to 13,000 workers over the next 15 years.
Walker said the need for workers goes beyond just Foxconn and includes employers across the state.
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 3.4 percent in October, down from a high of 9.2 percent in January 201,0 as the state felt the effects of the Great Recession. Wisconsin’s low unemployment rate, couple with an aging population, has made it even harder to find workers for open jobs. The state is projected to need 45,000 workers in the next seven years.
Walker urged people attending the conference to lobby their local lawmakers to approve funding for the campaign.
“This should be a nonpartisan issue,” Walker said. “Building our workforce should be something easy for Republicans and Democrats alike.”
The idea won support from Republican legislative leaders. Both Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said they looked forward to getting more details in the coming weeks.
But Democrats were less enthusiastic.
“I’m baffled why Gov. Walker and Republicans aren’t looking at their own policies that have driven away young adults and contributed to our state’s brain drain crisis,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. “Millennials are increasingly choosing to live in states that invest in public transit, promote workplace flexibility and support student loan debt relief.”
Democratic Rep. Dana Wachs, a candidate for governor challenging Walker next year, said, “Walker is spending taxpayer money like he’s got holes in his pockets.”