At its annual meeting, the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. unveiled its vision for filling existing and future high-wage jobs for skilled workers.
The plan calls for creating innovation districts, which encourage collaboration between research-oriented anchor institutions, existing firms, and technology and creative startups in well-designed, amenity-rich dense environments. More than 350 business and community leaders attended the event.
“For decades, Sheboygan County has been suffering from ‘brain drain’ of some of our best and brightest to Milwaukee, Chicago, and the coasts, even at a time that we have some of the most innovative companies in the world headquartered here, and it is clear that having jobs alone is not enough to attract and retain talent,” Jim Schuessler, SCEDC’s business development manager, told the audience.
As the competition for top-tier talent continues to intensify, employees are increasingly being able to pick their jobs and communities, Schuessler says. Upcoming cohorts of talent seek reasonable cost of living, opportunities to collaborate, a sense of energy, and feeling they are a part of something bigger. Innovation communities are designed to address this through urban design, tenant mix and entrepreneurial programming, he says.
The stakes are high, says SCEDC’s Director Dane Checolinski.
“Since 2010, the county’s population has already declined by over 2 percent,” Checolinski said. “Successful development will attract skilled workforce by creating the environment they seek while further embedding Sheboygan County’s innovative companies in their respective communities.”
Chad Pelishek, director of planning for the City of Sheboygan, says the municipality would help create a one-of-a-kind urban experience. The city recently acquired waterfront property along Indiana Avenue, which may serve as a location for the epicenter of an innovation community that could enhance the strengths of new apartments, co-working and makerspace already operating in downtown Sheboygan.
“The city is willing to partner in world-class placemaking to fit the needs of employees wither they work for a company inside or outside the Sheboygan,” Pelishek said. “All of eastern Wisconsin faces the same challenge.”