A Message from President Mike Theo: Calling All Workers!

 Mike Theo  |    October 06, 2016

Wisconsin is demographically challenged. We don’t have enough workers. And it will impact real estate directly.

This stark reality has been known for some time, but several developments of late have brought this pending crisis into clearer focus. A recent publication by the respected Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WTA) took a closer look into Wisconsin’s migration issues and found significant warning signs of an economic crisis on the horizon. It’s not that people don’t like to live in the Badger State. In fact most Wisconsinites like it here so much they pretty much stay put. Only three other states in the nation move to other states at a rate lower than us. So people aren’t clamoring to leave — they’re just not clamoring to come here either, making us a net loser in migration.

Recent research by Competitive Wisconsin Inc. (CWI) amplifies the point. The research highlighted estimates that between 2010 and 2040, Wisconsin will experience a drop of more than 118,000 workers in the critical 25- to 54-year-old workforce population. It also quantified that, as a state, we’re getting older. For example, about 10 years ago, 69 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties had 80 percent or more of their residents of workforce age. By 2035, it’s estimated that only 11 counties will have 80 percent of their population in that category.

There are many problems that result from an aging, stagnant and eventually shrinking work force. Existing employers won’t have the pipeline of workers needed to grow, the state’s tax base will shrivel, and demands for government-provided services for an older population will increase. And the trend of younger workers moving to urban areas exacerbates these problems for our rural areas. No workers means no homebuyers and flat job and business growth. The negative impact on residential and commercial real estate is all too apparent. Yikes! 

So what do we do?

Our efforts begin with the recognition that the real estate economy in Wisconsin cannot thrive unless the overall economy is thriving, and that won’t happen if we don’t address our workforce shortage. In fact, the first strategy of the WRA strategic plan says we should take a leadership role in making Wisconsin’s economy prosper because without that, our markets will suffer. That strategic plan was updated this past summer with more specificity on this point. A new plank titled “Grow Wisconsin’s Economy” now reads as follows: 

“Research macro-problems facing Wisconsin’s economy and, either separately or in partnership with other organizations — such as local units of government or trade unions — identify solutions. Issue areas include: K-12 and higher education; infrastructure financing (mainly transportation and internet accessibility); workforce development; improved housing affordability and availability; and rebuilding the Middle Class.”

In pursuit of these strategic goals generally, and the issue of workforce development specifically, the WRA is helping lead a private sector initiative by CWI to address Wisconsin’s systemic workforce challenges. This effort is just beginning, but it envisions the focused engagement of a large number of Wisconsin employers, workers, educators and policymakers, organized around the following four specific areas:

  • Education and training: Identifying and systemizing successful workforce development strategies currently in practice.
  • Retention: Reducing worker flight and significantly enhancing worker ability to address skill-maintenance training and education from the workplace.
  • Recruitment: Identifying specific recruitment needs and developing comprehensive strategic plans for meeting those needs.
  • Cross-platform strategies: Identify cross-platform opportunities for enhancing impact.

Over the past month, CWI leaders, including the WRA, have met with top state and local government officials, educational institutions, major industry trade associations and some of the state’s most iconic corporations to discuss this major new initiative. In the coming months, more such meetings will be taking place across Wisconsin. In the coming months, you will also be hearing more about this effort and the WRA’s role in it. The battle cry will indeed be “calling all workers”! Wisconsin’s future depends on it. Stay tuned.

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