Wisconsin’s workers are always on our minds, especially now as our state and our economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Every worker is so vital, the value of their work significant._ Gov. Evers and our administration have made key decisions over the past 18 months that have put our state in the best position to recover. Despite double-digit job losses last year, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is back to nearly pre-pandemic levels. Even more telling, Wisconsin’s labor force participation is among the highest in the country and is well above the national average. In other words, Wisconsin is getting back to work._ Nevertheless, the long-term workforce challenge that has affected our state for the last decade persists: we need more workers. As DWD Secretary Amy Pechacek and I have learned through our travels around the state recently, this situation carries its own set of challenges._ Not only does it affect business owners across our state, not having enough workers takes a toll on our existing workforce, many of whom earn low wages, work extra shifts, struggle to find adequate and reliable transportation, and remain desperate for quality, affordable, and safe childcare, healthcare, and housing.
As the state’s leader in economic development, WEDC is working to address these issues. Governor Evers has committed $130 million to meeting Wisconsin’s long-term workforce needs, including Workforce Innovation Grants of up to $10 million per project._ The grants will enable communities to develop specific, local solutions. Some may make training and education their top priority, while others may focus on transportation, housing, childcare, or other needs. The idea is to eliminate barriers to employment for everyone._ But even if every available worker were participating in our workforce, these challenges would remain ahead of us.
Throughout Wisconsin’s history, its citizens have crafted innovative solutions to some of the most vexing challenges of their times. The Workforce Innovation Grants provide the financial resources our communities, citizens, and businesses need to apply that creativity, grit, and strategic thinking to the labor needs we face – both now and in the future.
Missy Hughes is Secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the state’s leading economic development organization. A version of this column appeared in the Milwaukee Business Journal on Oct. 1.