Facing a shortage of talent and a surplus of unfilled jobs, the state of Wisconsin is pulling out all the stops to attract millennials from other parts of the midwestern US to the state to work, Shayndi Rice reports at the Wall Street Journal. In January, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation launched a $1 million ad campaign in Chicago, while the state legislature is soon expected to pass a proposal from Governor Scott Walker to spend another $6.8 million to advertise the state throughout the midwest.
Too many jobs and not enough workers may sound like a luxury problem compared to what some parts of the US have reckoned with in the past decade, but Wisconsin policy makers fear that the slow growth of the labor force (just 1.4 percent from 2010 to 2016) could hinder economic development in the state. That low growth—a product of demographic aging, low birth rates, and negative net migration—has left Wisconsin with an unemployment rate of 3 percent and a projected 45,000 unfilled jobs by 2024, Rice reports.
Along with the abundance of job opportunities, the ad campaigns tout the low cost of living in Wisconsin cities (compared to Chicago), easier commutes and higher quality of life. Cities like Milwaukee and Madison are also running social media campaigns to advertise themselves as fun, vibrant places for young professionals to live. Critics of the campaigns, however, contend that these funds would be better spent on public services.
On Thursday, the Wisconsin State Assembly was poised to approve a $3 billion tax break to incentivize the Taiwanese multinational Foxconn Technology Group to build a display panel factory in the state. The deal, which still must pass the state Senate, would see the electronics giant invest as much as $10 billion in Wisconsin and hire as many as 13,000 people, but it has proven controversial, with opponents saying it isn’t worth the cost.
Another objection opponents raise is that with an unemployment rate of just 3.1 percent, Wisconsin doesn’t have enough workers to fill thousands of jobs. “Which is why,” Bloomberg View columnist Conor Sen infers, “the Foxconn strategy is really a bet that Wisconsin can recruit workers from other states”:
Illinois’s unemployment rate is 4.7 percent. Ohio’s is 5 percent. So the bet Wisconsin wants to make is that it can recruit a high-profile factory, which will draw in factory workers from other states, and that movement will have a multiplier effect creating even more jobs, leading to even more recruitment of workers from other states.
US states have long used tax and regulatory policies to differentiate themselves and attract business investment and talent—or to attract talent in order to attract businesses. With the US labor market the tightest it has been in a decade, states now face the same challenge as employers, of courting scarce talent by offering the right set of incentives. Sen points to Maine, where local employers and Governor Paul LePage are looking at ways to bring back natives of the state who have moved away: