Wisconsin may be open for business, but young people are taking theirs elsewhere.
The Badger State is among the top 10 for people moving out, according to the annual survey from United Van Lines. Many of those leaving are recent college graduates seeking economic opportunity elsewhere. A few years back, a UW-Madison professor calculated that Wisconsin lost an average of 14,000 college graduates per year.
This exodus of young people is causing major headaches for state employers. Over the next seven years, a projected 45,000 Wisconsin job openings will go unfilled for want of workers. And Census data shows Wisconsin currently ranks 42nd among states in attracting out-of-state young people.
In response, Gov. Scott Walker wants to spend $6.8 million on efforts to “attract and retain talented workers in Wisconsin to meet the workforce demands of today and tomorrow.”
Walker is right that Wisconsin needs to attract millennials. But he is completely wrong in his approach.
Millennials (persons born between 1980 and 2000) have become the nation’s largest generation cohort. And according to a City Observatory study, titled “Young and Restless,” one million young adults relocate each year. Attracting migrating young professionals is key to fueling economic growth.
The Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America found that 66 percent of the millennials it surveyed cited access to high-quality transportation as among their top three criteria in weighing where to live.
And yet one of Walker’s first acts as governor was to reject $810 million for a Madison-to-Milwaukee passenger rail line, part of the Obama administration’s $10 billion push to invest in high-speed rail. Today, Wisconsin ranks among the bottom 10 states for overall transportation.
Meanwhile, the American Planning Association found that 68 percent of millennials believe the path to economic prosperity lies in working to make local communities desirable places to live.
Revolutions in technology have made millennials the most entrepreneurial generation ever. A third of the generational cohort have already started their own small business, while many of the rest say their goals include eventually starting one.
For the past three years, Wisconsin has placed dead last among the states in startup activity, as measured by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a leading entrepreneurship advocacy and research organization. Instead of focusing state resources on improving this dismal ranking, officials including Walker have earmarked more than $4 billion of taxpayer money to the Taiwan-based Foxconn, an electronics manufacturer known for building nets to prevent worker suicides outside of its Chinese plants.
Few things are more critical to building an economy for the future than high-speed internet access. Yet in 2011, Walker turned down $23 million in federal funding to upgrade the state’s internet infrastructure. Today, Wisconsin’s mean download speed is 17.23 megabits per second, ranking it 37th among the states.
Instead of providing millennials with the amenities they need to be successful, Walker has taken Wisconsin in the opposite direction. As a result, we are falling further behind in attracting younger workers and the resulting economic growth.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the state’s millennials who are being hurt.