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June 17, 2019

Jamie Taylor/River NewsRebecca Deschane explains how she works with both the UW System and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to recruit people to move to Wisconsin. Deschane was one of several speakers at a Nicolet Hire Up event Friday, May 3.
Jamie Taylor/River News

Rebecca Deschane explains how she works with both the UW System and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to recruit people to move to Wisconsin. Deschane was one of several speakers at a Nicolet Hire Up event Friday, May 3.
5/9/2019 7:30:00 AM
Hire Up event focuses on strategies for attracting, retaining workers

Jamie Taylor
River News Reporter

Regional economic development officials gathered at Nicolet College in Rhinelander Friday to discuss new strategies for attracting and retaining workers. A major challenge for those in economic development is both simple and complex - they can't attract new jobs without workers to fill those positions while, at the same time, workers are leaving the area seeking employment elsewhere.

To combat this problem, many in the economic development arena are experimenting with novel approaches to employee recruitment, especially when targeting those right out of college or technical school.

As part of the Nicolet College HireUp series, economic development leaders from the 19-county area served by Grow North heard from two economic development leaders from Wausau and Milwaukee Friday on how to recruit and retain workers through quality of life, opportunities for personal and cultural enrichment and affordable housing.

Brittany Beyer, executive director of Grow North Regional Economic Development Corporation, said Nicolet has been running the Hire Up program for about five years.

"Hire Up was designed to tackle recruitment, retention and retraining of potential workers in the area," Beyer said. "All three of the speakers will be talking about recruitment, attraction and retaining programs that we should be thinking about doing something similar in this region."

Beyer was pleased with the turnout Friday.

"I see people in the room from Lincoln County, Langlade County, Vilas and Forest and Oneida," she said. "The more engagement, the better. I think that we also want to let businesses know that this (event) was for them, and they should be thinking about this (employee attraction and retention) on their own terms, especially if you are thinking about HR and recruitment. The cost of turnover if you don't have employees is high."

The first speaker was Jeremy Fojut, co-founder and "Chief Idea Officer" for NEWaukee, a social architecture agency that designs memorable experiences that connect the people, places and companies within the Milwaukee area and beyond. He said some of the events the group has come up with to instill a sense of belonging could be replicated in other places, including the Northwoods.

The agency sponsors hundreds of unique events all year, all free and open to the public, that are designed to engage residents and give them a sense of belonging in the community, he explained.

"We started with zero money, and we worked on this and were successful with zero money for two years," Fojut said. "It just takes the right people who are passionate about this."

Since then, the agency has consulted on ways to improve business recruiting, retention and work culture as well as worked with communities outside of the Milwaukee area seeking to replicate their success.

He added that the group is independent and not under any one municipal government.

Despite Milwaukee's size, Fojut said it suffers from a lack of qualified potential workers, just like other areas of the state. At present, 30,000 tech jobs in the Milwaukee area are going unfilled, he said.

Beyer alluded to those 30,000 open tech jobs and compared that to the labor shortage in the northern part of the state.

"Just think about all the job openings up here, it's different because each of the regions of the state are different for their make-ups of industry," she said. "But we definitely have openings and we definitely have businesses that are about to expand."

The second speaker was Christian Schock, Director of Planning, Community and Economic Development for the City of Wausau.

Schock said Wausau has had great success in attracting young professionals to the city by concentrating heavily on increasing quality housing options.

"Talent needs place, place needs business," Schock explained.

Be it apartments or condos or tract houses, the city works with developers in the form of loans and such, while downpayment assistance is available to people looking to buy a home in Wausau. This includes professions that most people wouldn't think would need such help, such as lawyers and doctors.

"If they are young, they might not have the down payment," Schock said. "They have high income, but they also have high student loan debt and other things that are going on that it does kind of complicate the purchase of a house."

While the city has invested some money into the loan fund, area businesses also contribute as they have seen how it gives young professionals roots in the community.

So far, there have been no defaults on any down payment loans the city has made, he added.

The last speaker was Rebecca Deschane, who serves as the Talent Initiative Director for both the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the UW System.

Her jointly funded position is a unique partnership between the two that allows her to lead and coordinate statewide efforts to attract and retain talent for the entire State of Wisconsin.

She plays a leadership role in attracting veterans, young professionals, and alumni from the UW system to live and work in Wisconsin, she explained.

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