It’s almost impossible to understate the importance of talent attraction and retention in the region. We know there is a shortage now and this will only balloon as the baby boomers retire.

Because of this, Momentum West and numerous partner organizations in the region are in the process of an exhaustive talent study conducted by CREC (the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness) that will result in an inventory of current and planned initiatives in the region, an inventory of the region’s assets in the area of talent development and attraction, and most importantly a list of strategies and specific initiatives that the region can undertake to impact the current and future talent challenges.

This study is crucial as we move forward, as is the region’s desire to embrace the strategies and recommended actions.

During a panel discussion hosted by the Eau Claire Chamber in mid-June focusing on talent, it was noted that one of the steps in addressing current and future talent issues is identifying and marketing the assets of the region that can be leveraged to attract and retain talent.

On the surface we might be inclined to consider ourselves at a disadvantage to many regions in the country. We don’t have a huge urban core and everything tied to it. We don’t have the draw of the East Coast and West Coast. We may be in the “flyover” part of the country, but that’s not so bad.

It doesn’t take long to realize the quality of life presented right here at home: the change of seasons; the endless summer recreation opportunities; the beauty of the fall colors and cool spring nights; companies that are leaders in their respective markets; high-quality good-paying jobs in a relatively low cost-of-living region of the country; good schools and a strong university and technical college presence; and the list goes on.

A May 2015 report by the EPA examined case studies for seven communities across the United States ranging from 2,900 to 98,000 residents. Among the successful tactics used to leverage local assets to drive talent and the economy, the following stood out:

Identify and build on existing assets.

  • Identify the assets that offer the best opportunities for growth and develop strategies to support them. Assets might include natural beauty and outdoor recreation, historic downtowns, or arts and cultural institutions.

Engage all members of the community to plan for the future.

  • Engage residents, business owners and other stakeholders to develop a vision for the community’s future. Stakeholder engagement helps ensure plans reflect the community’s desires, needs and goals and generates public support that can maintain momentum for implementing changes.

Encourage cooperation within the community and across the region.

  • Cooperation to achieve jointly-established priorities helps leverage the assets that each party can bring to the table to make the most of the region’s resources.

Support a clean and healthy environment.

  • Invest in natural assets by protecting natural resources and cleaning up and redeveloping polluted properties, which makes productive use of existing transportation, water and utility infrastructure; increases the tax base and employment opportunities; removes environmental contamination; and helps spur investment in surrounding properties.

A lot on our plate

The stories in this edition of the Chippewa Valley Business Report illustrate some of the versatility of the leisure activities of area residents. These are examples of some of the less mainstream leisure activities, let alone the things we take for granted.

Think about the growing music festivals, the arts, four seasons full of outdoor recreational activities too many to even contemplate listing, and year-round activities including theater, shopping, volunteer opportunities and much more. There is not much you can’t do here.

I’m not sure why you would trade all of this for wildfires, hurricanes, mudslides, an exorbitant cost of living, excessive humidity, congestion, smog, etc. We may have a few cold months every year — which can also be looked at as a break from mowing the lawn — but I can find drawbacks just about everywhere.

The Confluence Project and the revitalization in our downtowns is creating a cool place to plant one’s footprint. Sitting at a table recently in the coffee shop in the Lismore, I was amazed by the number of 20-somethings walking through downtown on a Friday morning. We’re starting to see a shift in demographics — a good one. We’re poised to become a permanent destination for a new generation.

So maybe one small part of talent attraction and retention is getting those that have left back. They could be alumni of our UW System institutions that have left, residents of the region that attended a place of higher learning elsewhere and haven’t yet come back (because we’ll assume everyone who’s left will eventually see the light), or relatives, friends and neighbors that moved elsewhere.

When you bump into them when you travel or connect via the multiple forms of communication available, let them know what they left behind. Maybe it’s also getting the students in our schools more active and involved in the community while they’re here. That might go miles in convincing them that when they think about where they’d like to plant their roots, this is the place.

Retention is often based on recreational assets and leisure activities presented in the area. Natural assets, placemaking, quality of life. We need to get the word that this area is pretty much tough to beat. Let those that left know there’s a reason to return, and convince those that are here to never leave. Maybe in a small way we can each turn the dial.

Steve Jahn is executive Director of Momentum West, a 10-county regional economic development corporation. Contact him at steve@momentumwest.org or 715-874-4673.

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