WMC partnering with WTCS, UW System to create 20-year plan

February 3, 2014

From madison.com: “Leading state business lobby looks to create 20-year strategic plan for Wisconsin” — By Karen Rivedal – The state’s biggest business group — Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce — is partnering with higher education leaders and the state’s job creation agency on a 20-year strategic business plan for Wisconsin.

Tentatively titled the Future Wisconsin Project, the effort will focus in its first year mostly on the oft-reported lack of skilled workers in manufacturing and many other challenged industries and sectors of the workforce, such as information technology.

But it’s also about taking a longer look at economic development issues facing the state and creating a workable and enduring system for addressing those issues, with timely input from business, government and academia, WMC president Kurt Bauer said.

“I think we’re all a little guilty of operating from month to month, year to year, election cycle to election cycle,” Bauer said. “This is supposed to be broader than that. This (will) look out and see what Wisconsin is going to be, and (ask ourselves), ‘Do we like it?’ and if we don’t, ‘How do we change it?’ ”

The goal of developing a lasting “infrastructure of communication” among the key parties is the main thing that differentiates the WMC project from other broad economic studies and initiatives such as Be Bold Wisconsin, said Morna Foy, Wisconsin Technical College System president. The tech system is one of the effort’s four partners, along with the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the quasi-public job creation agency recommended by the Be Bold Wisconsin study.

By contrast, Foy said, “(WMC leaders) are trying to build a road map that people can follow this year and the year after that and the year after that.

“Some of the topics they’re interested in examining are big. They go beyond the interests or borders of any individual company. It’s really refreshing for us to see them take that longer view.”

UW System spokesman Dave Giroux credited WMC for involving higher education leaders early in the process and said he liked what he described as WMC’s focus on “human capital, the competitiveness of our business and industry, and the overall quality of life.”

“We see ourselves (in the UW System) touching on these areas in many different ways,” Giroux said.

The effort is motivated by troubling demographic projections that threaten a crisis for Wisconsin’s aging workforce in the decades to come, WMC leaders said.

The Wisconsin Applied Population lab projects 14.2 percent overall population growth in the state by 2040, with about 800,000 more people but most of them over age 65, according to Jim Morgan, president of the WMC Foundation, the group’s research arm.

WMC also cites a Georgetown University Study that predicted 317,130 additional jobs between 2010 and 2020 in Wisconsin but only 15,150 new workers.

Incoming WMC chairman Dan Ariens, president of Brillion-based Ariens Co., an outdoor power equipment manufacturer, said WMC and its partners needed to create a “consensus dialogue” over these issues to effectively address the problem before it gets worse.

“There’s a workforce shortage now,” said Ariens, who also is vice chairman of the WEDC board of directors. “It’ll be a crisis later.”

Beyond workforce development — or “talent attraction,” as the Future Wisconsin project terms it — the issue of business competitiveness also is slated to be studied closely in year one of the initiative. Future years could focus on other identified issues, likely including global engagement, government effectiveness, life quality and entrepreneurial spirit.

Discussions and ideas also will center around what the parties see as the state’s various strengths and barriers to growth. WMC’s own agenda, mainly representing the viewpoint of business owners and industry, must be balanced by input from the other partners for the initiative to be successful, Foy noted.

“If the script is already written and all the ideas have been thought of, and (WMC leaders are) just doing a yearlong road show (of their conclusions), other parties won’t want to engage,” Foy said. “That’s not my sense at all about what they’re looking for in this. They are really trying to stretch beyond their own view to make sure they get the best and smartest ideas.”

WMC will share plans for the project more widely in the coming weeks and months, starting with its own members Feb. 6 at the group’s annual Business Day, a key membership and lobbying event in Madison.

Jim Morgan, president of the WMC Foundation, a research arm of the group, then will present the project at each of the technical system’s 16 colleges in February and March, with public listening sessions and regular meetings of the partners and other stakeholder groups throughout the year, leading up to a December forum where notes on problems will be compared and action plans could be issued.

Bauer and Ariens said possible end results could include new legislative proposals that WMC could lobby for, and/or more grassroots steps or decisions that any of the partners could take on their own.

“It’s not just going to be another white paper,” Bauer promised. “It’s a process. More than anything, what we want to do is spark the debate and make people aware of what is coming down the road.”

Giroux agreed the project could be unique.

“We haven’t seen before the state’s lead business organization and the two higher education systems working directly together on something of this magnitude,” Giroux said. “We may have seen this model on a small scale, but not like this.”

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