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Lawmakers express concern about campaign to market Wisconsin to millennials

Laurel White

Wisconsin Public Radio

Business owners gathered Wednesday in the state Capitol to support a bill aimed at bringing more young workers to Wisconsin, while some lawmakers expressed concerns about the plan.

Under the proposal, which Gov. Scott Walker lauded late last year, the state would spend $6.8 million on a marketing campaign aimed at luring millennials, University of Wisconsin System graduates, and veterans to Wisconsin.

"The biggest challenge that we're facing right now in terms of growth is people, the equipment is there, the work is there, but people are by far the biggest issue — finding qualified candidates to do the jobs that we have available at our company," Adam Tegelman, director of operations for MCC Incorporated, a concrete paving company in Appleton, said at a public hearing Wednesday on the bill.

Tegelman said more than half of his company's workers are over 50 years old, but he thinks millennials would be interested in jobs there because of the company's benefits and opportunities for advancement.

The state's marketing campaign would focus on things like shorter commute times in Wisconsin, compared to urban areas in neighboring states, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. launched a similar, $1 million campaign this week.Several business groups have registered in support of the proposal, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

But Democratic lawmakers have been critical of the plan, arguing the $6.8 million could be better spent elsewhere.

"The only thing that gives me more heartburn is that we'll be investing in bringing more workers to Wisconsin before we actually invest in Wisconsin workers," said Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee.

Supporters of the plan argue spending money on training programs for the state's existing workforce isn't enough to adequately address Wisconsin's worker shortage.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle also expressed concern that the campaign doesn’t present a unifying tagline for all state agencies to utilize in marketing efforts.

In addition to the WEDC, the state departments of tourism, workforce development, and veterans affairs would be involved in the campaign.

"I just see too much confusion and too many logos," said Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview.

The bill has yet to be voted on in committee. The governor has said he hopes it will be approved by the end of this legislative session, which is scheduled to wrap up in early May, at the latest.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2018, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. Find more WPR news at KUWS-FM 91.3 or wpr.org.

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