AT THE MANUFACTURING FIRST Expo & Conference in Green Bay on Oct. 26, a luncheon for CEOs of Northeast Wisconsin businesses featured a presentation and discussion led by Barb LaMue, vice president, business and community development for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
The presentation showcased WEDC’s Think-Make-Happen campaign, a multidirectional effort to help attract talent to the state. As part of the effort, WEDC debuted a new promotional video at the event that companies can use to help recruit talent. The following is an edited transcription of LaMue’s discussion about the campaign and comments from other leaders who were present at the event.
LaMue: We’re here to talk about talent: How do we grow it? It’s easier to keep a customer than to try and recruit a customer, and it’s the same with our workforce. We have very strong and stable jobs in the state of Wisconsin. People don’t need to leave our state.
Think-Make-Happen really is about talent being at the center of everything right now. I traveled the state extensively — I think I put on 66,000 miles last year — and we hear over and over again that companies would put on 10, 15, 30, 50 or more people if they could find the talent.
We want to reach out to the millennials and the younger generation that is our current workforce. How do we get them excited about things that are happening in Wisconsin? We actually had some other taglines that we threw out, thank goodness. We wanted this to be organically grown. We finally ended up with the Think- Make-Happen campaign that has really resonated. “Think” talks about our education and our educational workforce here, second to none.
“Make” — we’re a manufacturing state, we’re a food-producing state and we’re very good with our hands.
“Happen” means we just don’t let things lie on the shelf. We have a long history of legacy companies started by entrepreneurs in their garage or basement, and today they’re multimillion if not billion-dollar companies.
We’re working with our regions right now — we want New North Inc. as well — to weave this campaign into their ideas. We’re anticipating the relaunch of the inWisconsin.com WEDC website within the next couple of months, and it will be geared more toward this talent initiative.
(Note: WEDC will retire the separate ThinkMakeHappen.com website when the relaunch occurs.)
We are expanding on a pretty aggressive financial campaign to support the Think-Make-Happen campaign. We have a lot of paid social media going on. We’re hitting very strongly the Chicago and Twin Cities markets. We have a lot of really great companies in Wisconsin that all have employment leads, so we want to see how we can bring our talent back. We’re working with the universities, working with their alumni associations to bring that talent back to Wisconsin. We tested our message, “More You.”
It’s built around that double meaning where there’s more for you here, there’s more for you to create, there’s more in Wisconsin that fits you. We’re not such a huge metropolitan area that you feel like you can’t make a difference. That really resonated when we tested it with millennials. They say here in Wisconsin, it’s large enough that there are things for us to do, but if I want to run for the city council, or I want to run for the county board, or if I want to run for the school board … we have the ability to do that in the various sizes communities that we have here.
We will take photographs of places here in Northeast Wisconsin that will be attached to the region that New North serves, depicting the quality of life, and the very affordable housing that we have in our community. When we asked some people what do they know about Wisconsin, they would say initially they were kind of shocked — they didn’t know it was so affordable. They never thought the state was attractive like this. They’re now starting to think about moving here.
We know in Wisconsin our agriculture industry is incredibly important to the state. We don’t want to underestimate this phrase, “I thought it was mostly farms.” It isn’t at all derogatory, but the state is so much more than farms. People outside of our state don’t often get that.
Business can’t grow unless we have talent. We can’t bring that talent here unless we’re reaching out to all of you.
We were talking at our table about our business development tools, whether it’s tax credits, historic tax credits, industrial revenue bonds and those types of things. They will still stay very resonant on our website. We want people to have easy access to our staff and our resources. But in addition to it, there will be this new focus on lifestyle.
Where do we go from here? We’re working with all of our nine economic development entities, we’re working with the cities, top employers, the top industries, showcasing the fun things to do, so that it can be customized.
We want to make sure that all of our collateral material gets placed on our websites, so that all of you as companies can put your spin on it. You can attach the video link to your recruiting packets so that you can make it your own. We realize marketing is very expensive, and we want to make it affordable for companies and nonprofits.
Kelly Lietz, vice president, marketing and brand strategy, WEDC: All the advertising we’re doing drives to the inWisconsin.com website and allows you to shop the state. As the research indicated, people do not know what our state has to offer.
This offers the opportunity to shop by region. In addition to educational opportunities, health care, school system, arts and recreation and all of that, there will also be links within each regional section providing more information. The call to action is this: We offer two ways you can pursue your passions in Wisconsin. Look for a job or look for a place to live.
We’re pulling the Department of Workforce Development job search capability onto the site, and then we’re allowing you to do housing searches on a regional basis as well. Our target audience in phase one of this is millennials in Chicago and alumni of our schools. We recognize there are many more audiences we should be talking to.
I like to joke that I’ve been working on three words for two years — but we spent the last two years talking about shoring up the retention effort and getting those young people involved in this process. We’re very much attuned to retention of our talent here. We asked people, “How likely are you to leave the state to pursue a professional opportunity?” and 40 percent of respondents say they would. Out of state, though, that figure is 60 percent. We’re stickier than most places.
LaMue: How can all of you as a manufacturers alliance collaborate to attract talent to Wisconsin through this campaign? We don’t want it to stop there — if you have other ideas that we could be or should be doing, we certainly can take those back in house, figure out if there is a way to make them happen. We want to make all of our planes take off on one runway in the same direction. After the presentation, leaders commented on how the campaign might help their companies attract talent.
Curt Kubiak, co-founder and CEO at NOVO Health: I thought the presentation was excellent, in that it was broader-scoped than within the state, and trying to capture people within it, but also outside-the-state workers. I think a lot of talent exists in larger communities like Chicago and Minneapolis.
We’re trying to find ways to reach those talented folks, either bringing them back home to Wisconsin, or attracting folks that otherwise wouldn’t have thought of coming to Wisconsin. I liked a lot of that thinking, and then really targeting specific demographic groups. And how do you make things attractive to millennials that maybe want a little more urban life or nightlife than those folks that might be a little more ready to settle down and are a little more family-oriented?
Brad Lasky, senior vice president/partner, Sadoff Iron & Metal: I think (the campaign) really outlines and showcases that front door of our state, and it allows people to see what we have to offer. It then targets them into areas in which they can get more information about geographic regions and amenities that we have to offer, Ann Franz, director of the NEW Manufacturing Alliance, applauds the message from the WEDC.
Thank you to these CEO Round Table sponsors as well as business opportunities. It offers more information to the families and the stakeholders that make decisions to relocate or come back to our community.
Colleen Daul, marketing coordinator at Keller Inc.: It has been very challenging to find not only the number of workers, but the qualified workers we need. What helps us is starting a little bit earlier.
We’re going to the high schools to promote and spread the word. We’re doing a lot of referral programs for our employees — if you know well-qualified people, send them our way. We’re rewarding our people a lot that way, so maybe it’s a collaboration of all of that together, where we help each other out and maybe have some incentives that can work toward a common goal. That may help all of us. We hire architects and project managers, construction managers and supervisors. I think this kind of campaign can help us find those qualified individuals.