500 First St., Suite 15
Wausau, WI 54403
Executive Director: Peggy Sullivan
Counties: Adams, Lincoln, Marathon, Portage, Wood
major industries: Manufacturing, paper, health care, insurance
Major employers: Marshfield Clinic, Sentry Insurance, Aspirus, Mosinee Telephone Co., Greenheck Fan Corp., Regal Beloit America, Wausau Paper Corp.
Largest airport: Central Wisconsin
Colleges and universities: Medical College of Wisconsin-Central Wisconsin, Mid-State Technical College, Northcentral Technical College, UW-Marathon County, UW-Marshfield/Wood County, UW-Stevens Point
2322 Alpine Road. Suite 7
Eau Claire, WI 54703
Executive Director: Steve Jahn
Counties: Barron, Clark, Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, Rusk, St. Croix
major industries: Medical devices, plastics, packaging, health care, education, bio-agriculture, bio-energy, sensors, computers, nanotechnology, chemicals
Major employers: Menards Inc., Philips Plastic Corp., 3M, Mayo Clinic Health System, Precision Pipeline LLC, Doro Inc.
largest airport: Chippewa Valley
Colleges and universities: UW-Barron County, UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls, UW-Stout, Chippewa Valley Technical College, Indianhead Technical College, Immanuel Lutheran College
Finding enough workers to fill current and future job openings is a high priority across central and western Wisconsin.
Regional economic development organizations are bringing businesses, educators and community leaders together to make sure companies have the workers they need to grow and thrive. The combination of retiring baby boomers paired with local business growth are the top two reasons businesses are feeling the crunch.
“Talent development is top of mind for everyone here,” said Peggy Sullivan, executive director of Centergy, an economic development organization covering five counties in central Wisconsin. “We have numerous initiatives in place to bring and retain workers in our region. We’re also focused on training programs to help retrain people living here for the available jobs.”
Momentum West, a regional economic organization covering 10 counties in western Wisconsin along and near I-94, is piloting a regional talent initiative to address current and pending talent issues, said executive director Steve Jahn.
“There are multiple factors in place, but the main thing is that you need to retain the young adults you have and attract and retain young adults from other areas,” he said.
Momentum West created a steering committee with representatives from area businesses, educational institutions, municipalities and state agencies, including the Department of Workforce Development.
“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel, but work with our partners to maximize our efficiencies,” said Seth Hudson, senior manager of economic and community development services for Cedar Corp. and the chairman of Momentum West’s board of directors.
Jahn said collaboration is essential for the initiative to work, and that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. will watch how Momentum West does and may use it as an example in other parts of the state.
Centergy is using the RETAIN initiative – an acronym coined by Edward Gordon that stands for regional Talent innovation networks – as a way to grow the local talent pool, Sullivan said.
“We’re gathering all our partners around the table so we can align our efforts and approach talent management in a collaborative manner,” she said, adding that while IT is the top field in need of workers, all industries are in a similar position.
“We can’t accomplish anything without working together. We all are working toward the same goal – growing the economy.”
A region’s educational offerings play a vital role in talent recruitment and retention, since young adults typically will stay closer to home if they can earn a desired degree from a nearby college or university, Sullivan said. Good programs also have the power to bring in new young adults to the area. Cooperation among institutions is vital to making that happen.
In central Wisconsin, technical colleges and University of Wisconsin campuses are working together through the Higher Education Alliance of Central Wisconsin, which is trying to improve Central Wisconsin’s educational offer, Sullivan said.
For example, the group is working to establish a bachelor’s degree in nursing at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. While the technical colleges offer a two-year program, there’s no four-year option available in the region. With the number of open nursing positions expected to rise during the next few years, Sullivan said it’s vital to have a program in the area so people don’t have to leave the region to get a four-year degree.
In western Wisconsin, the three four-year University of Wisconsin campuses teamed up to offer an engineering program. “If students go to school close to home, they may get an internship in the area and then hopefully a job,” Jahn said. “If they leave the area to go to school, it’s likely their careers will start elsewhere.”
Besides growing new talent, attracting new businesses and helping entrepreneurs are also priorities for regional economic development groups.
In central Wisconsin, Centergy is developing regional pathways for entrepreneurs starting a business to follow.
“We found that it was hard for entrepreneurs to find and use the resources available, so we’ve worked with the state as well as local communities to pull those together,” Sullivan said.
In western Wisconsin, Momentum West’s new Gold Shovel Ready Program builds off of the state’s certified sites program, providing developers and businesses with key information about available land. Hudson compared the information gathered to what a prospective homeowner might see about a home.
“It has all the necessary facts in one place so developers can look through it and see what’s available,” he said. “We also push it out to the state’s online listing of available land for development, as well as to some regional and national contacts. It’s a great way for some of these smaller areas to get exposure.”