In rugby, a scrum is where each team makes a mound of humanity to mass their muscle, in an attempt to gain control of the ball. To persuade healthcare workers to work in western Wisconsin, various entities mass their creative muscle, making a marketing scrum. There are considerable challenges to overcome.

For some of the rural communities in the Chippewa Valley, the challenge is retaining their healthcare infrastructure. In 2016, the Census Bureau reported that 19.3 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas. Statistics project that America’s rural population will be less than 11 percent in just 25 years. Running a hospital is expensive, from 24/7 staffing to specialized HVAC systems to modern medical equipment. Recruiting healthcare professionals to more rural areas goes against the flow, for rural areas are steadily emptying, and healthcare professionals in America’s small towns are often expected to do more with less.

Another challenge is the competition. Eau Claire’s hospitals compete with Madison, Chicago, and other cities for healthcare professionals. Eau Claire has many charms, but it doesn’t have Madison’s State Street and Wisconsin’s capitol building or Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and its world class Art Institute.

However, the Valley doesn’t just compete with upper Midwest cities. It also competes with healthcare systems across the country. Innova Healthcare System in Washington D.C. is offering candidates with at least two years of critical care experience a $20,000 sign-on bonus and up to $20,000 in reimbursable relocation costs. West Virginia's WVU Medicine offers free housing to certain nurses and perhaps the biggest perk of all: free college for employees and their children at West Virginia University following five years of employment.

Inherent advantages

The Valley’s recruiting efforts are aided by the unaffordability of housing for middle class Americans in many markets, like Los Angeles and San Francisco. In a quest for affordable housing, many mid-sized cities are seeing an influx of workers, happy to trade San Francisco’s cable cars for a fine, affordable home that they can actually own.

When it comes to healthcare recruiting, the Chippewa Valley also has some inherent advantages, such as geography, facilities and affiliations. The Chippewa Valley is on the line between the rolling, bucolic hills of southwestern Wisconsin and the glittering blue lakes of glaciated Wisconsin. It’s easier for professionals to come hither when a site is so comely. Then there are the recent upgrades to the hospitals, from Marshfield’s freshly minted facility to the upgrades at HSHS Sacred Heart and Mayo Clinic Health System. There has also been upgrades to the Valley’s cultural infrastructure, such as Eau Claire’s Pablo Center at the Confluence. The academic infrastructure also helps with recruiting, from CVTC to the UW system schools.

Finally, there are the reputations of the healthcare providers. It you work at Mayo Clinic Health System, you are working at the number one hospital system overall in the nation and it’s also number one in more specialties than any other hospital in America. HSHS and Marshfield have also earned many awards. These regional and system advantages give the Valley’s hospital recruiters a head start.

HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospitals

Recruiters, even with the inherent advantages of the Valley, still have to make their case and they do it both old school, i.e. face-to-face, and new school, e.g. social media.

Michael Nemmetz, Recruiter at HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospitals, said, “HSHS recruiters will travel to college career fairs throughout Western Wisconsin as needed, however as an organization embedded in the local university scene, it is the relationship between students and HSHS during their clinical work within our hospitals that is the driving force for our college graduate recruitment. We also attend the Eau Claire Business Expo to advertise our open positions.”

Nemmetz and HSHS also use social media.

“When utilizing LinkedIn, it is more so leveraging my network of contacts and reaching out directly to prospective candidates who have a similar background as some of the job requirements," he said. "LinkedIn Recruiter is a service/tool that lets you search by keywords and experiences in individual’s profiles and then message them.”

Social media recruiting might expand.

“We as a system are looking at how can HSHS embrace social media like Snapchat and Instagram to help craft a compelling job recruitment/marketing message, but this is in the very, very early stages.”

Comparing salary offers is normal for most job candidates, but local providers hope potential employees are looking beyond the figure that will be on their paycheck.

“Many potential recruits, with the Twin Cities relatively close, compare salaries there to wages in the Valley," he said. “While this is understandable given our proximity, HSHS does spend time comparing the costs of living, the school systems, and the abundance of activities available locally without the additional associated costs.”

HSHS’s values can also persuade.

“HSHS is a mission and values driven organization, which sets us apart in health care. We deliver exceptional holistic care (mind, body and spirit) to all patients. As a Franciscan health care ministry, we are inspired to serve others — particularly the most vulnerable in our society.”

To extend its recruiting reach, HSHS also partners with other entities.

HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s handles its own recruitment activities and processes, but we partner with outside entities for contingent staff as needs arise. For example, we have also aligned ourselves with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to recruit individuals for our environmental services and nutrition services departments.”

HSHS also joined the business advisory council for Project Search.

“It’s a job training and education program for those with intellectual disabilities, where participants complete a nine-month program leading to employment.”

HSHS also partners with Prevea Health to recruit physicians.

Prevea Health partnership

Prevea Health is a physician partner of HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospitals, and Emily Lindholm is a physician recruiter at Prevea Health. Lindholm and Prevea Health bring physicians to the two area HSHS hospitals to meet staff, see the facilities, and appreciate the area.

Lindholm said: “One way in which we determine a candidate is the best fit is by interviewing them in a group setting. It is important to us that candidates meet with many different members of the teams they may potentially work with, as we want to be certain that it will be a good fit for everyone involved.”

Lindholm also travels.

“Attending career fairs and specialty conferences allows us the opportunity to meet with potential candidates in-person, which helps us to better explain how wonderful Western Wisconsin is, and how great it is to work for Prevea Health and our HSHS hospital partners.”

Lindholm tells candidates how Eau Claire is just the right size.

“Eau Claire is a nicely sized city: It’s not too big and it’s not too small. Its proximity to Minneapolis is helpful, along with the quick access it provides to Lake Altoona and Lake Wissota. The arts and music scene is also impressive, along with the great school systems.”

Not all HSHS recruits are cognizant of the Valley’s appeal. Visiting helps.

“Often people who are not overly familiar with Wisconsin tend to think our communities are small and that there is not much to do. When candidates come to visit the area, they comment on how pleased they are to see all the things Eau Claire and the surrounding communities have to offer.”

Visiting lets candidates see the care that area folks and organizations put into their communities.

“You can truly see the love people have for the city of Eau Claire and it surrounding communities such as Chippewa Falls and Altoona. Companies and individuals are always investing to continuously enhance what these communities have to offer.”

Market pressures and nationwide graduation rates, coupled with an aging population, does make filling certain positions harder than others, such as CT Technologists, Surgical Technologists, and Physical/Occupational Therapists, as well as neurology and psychiatry for doctors.

Mayo Clinic Health System

Recruiting can even be a challenge for the nation’s top-ranked hospital system.

Richard Helmers, M.D., regional vice president, Mayo Clinic Health System, northwest Wisconsin, said, “The competition for the best health care providers and scientists has never been greater throughout the country, so we continue to make recruitment of top talent one of our highest priorities.”

What’s proximate to Mayo Clinic Health System is appealing to millennials, which facilities recruiting.

“I think millennials like the exciting growth in downtown Eau Claire, the atmosphere created by the university, and the proximity to major metropolitan areas while still being able to live in a moderate-sized community.”

And what keeps them here once they’re recruited?

“It’s the quality of life: great schools, affordable housing, ample recreational opportunities, and the pride Eau Claire has in itself. Until they visit, many candidates are not aware of the incredible quality of life here.”

Marshfield Clinic Health System

Like HSHS, Marshfield Clinic Health System (MCHS) does face-to-face and cyberspace.

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Heidi Kramer, Manager of Recruitment & Retention, said, “We use a variety of social media strategies, but we also attend recruitment fairs in the community, technical colleges, and universities, while also occasionally holding our own. We continue to find these events valuable as it allows us an opportunity to network, build relationships, and answer questions on a more personal level. We often have employee representatives from the departments’ we’re recruiting for in attendance.”

In addition to Eau Claire’s schools, downtown Farmer’s Market, restaurants, and so on, Kramer also persuades candidates with MCHS’s infrastructure.

“Our system has a lot to offer in terms of technology, types of practice, and opportunities for change and advancement. I think many potential candidates don’t fully understand that we are a fully integrated health system and what that truly means. Such a system offers great opportunity for growth and professional development, research, and more.”

Kramer anticipates many slots are challenging to fill: “Nurses (nationwide shortage); front-line service positions — appointment coordinators, housekeepers, nursing assistants, etc. — there are a shortage of these workers also and the record-low unemployment makes these extra difficult.”

For some slots, MCHS will partner with recruiting specialists.

“We do occasionally partner with other companies that specialize in those specific areas of the business that we’re recruiting for.”

Chambers of Commerce

The area’s chambers of commerce have the healthcare providers’ backs. Chippewa’s Chamber of Commerce uses social media almost exclusively.

Michelle Farrow, Workforce Development Coordinator at Chippewa Chamber of Commerce, said: “Social media, like Facebook and Instagram, is 95 percent of what we use to attract people of all ages to Chippewa Falls. While we have an eye on the millennials, we work to attract the talent needed for our workforce, no matter the age.”

The Chamber works to connect employers, potential employees and the state.

“The Chamber works with small and larger scaled employers, focusing on their ideal candidates and requirements. We are customizing the work done by the Department of Workforce Development for our specific audience.”

The easiest candidates to convince might be those who left.

“Our local alumni associations are a good draw for us as we ask them to 'come back home' and see the great changes in Chippewa," she said. "They are a niche market and have natural connections to Chippewa.”

Those who have left understand what they’ve left behind.

“We are focusing our message on the true-life experience of living and working in a smaller community, aspects you cannot get in a metropolitan area, like not being stuck in traffic on an interstate or having a 45-minute commute," Farrow said. "Instead, you could be home by 5:30 with family or friends or jumping on Lake Wissota to do a little fishing or twisting the cap off a Leinie’s.”

Farrow correctly notes that some people pay to come to the Valley.

“People from around the world vacation here to experience up north Wisconsin," she said. "In Chippewa, you can have a balance of having it all; a great job, living in a great community and having a great life. That’s our sales pitch, the lifestyle here in Chippewa Falls.”

Down Hwy. 53, Scott Rogers, Governmental Affairs & Workforce Director for the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce, also pitches the pleasures of the Valley.

“The national and regional media attention that the area has received recently has focused on attributes like music, arts, natural resources, outdoor sports, and other attributes," he said. "There’s a small-town feel with many bigger city amenities.”

To get the word out, the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce partnered with Volume One.

“Together, we produced the ThinkEauClaire.com video and website that's specifically targeted to highlight our area's attributes, and be complementary with WEDC's regional campaigns on behalf of the state. It's primarily designed as a tool for employers to use in their recruitment to couple their own attributes with those of the community.”

And the two chambers leverage local millennials, too.

“We have a very active Young Professionals of the Chippewa Valley organization, with over 450 members, in partnership with the Chippewa Falls Chamber.


While the chambers support local businesses, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) buttresses businesses and chambers. One social media mechanism they use to recruit is geofencing.

Kelly Lietz, Vice President, Marketing and Brand Strategy at WEDC, said, “Geofencing allows a marketer to target online advertising (through cellular data, for example) to populations within a very specific geographic space. Ads are served up to mobile devices carried by members of a target audience (defined by additional demographic criteria) within the defined space.

WEDC’s three target audiences are Midwest millennials, Wisconsin alumni, and transitioning military service members in certain cities.

“Our paid media targeting millennials is focused on 13 Midwest metro areas, as residents of those areas are much more likely to consider a move to Wisconsin," she said. "Our alumni paid media reaches anyone anywhere whose social media profile indicates an affiliation with a Wisconsin college or university.”

WEDC even presses the flesh at times.

“Our veteran attraction strategy is nationwide and complements face-to-face visits we are making to bases throughout the country and abroad as part of the campaign.”

Geofencing conveys how affordable and attractive Wisconsin is.

“Social media and video and audio streaming play an important role in our engagement strategy with all three of these audiences as these play an integral role in their daily lives, both in terms of entertainment and information," Lietz said. "Our social media and video and audio streaming advertisements use rich imagery and compelling data to convey the benefits of living and working in Wisconsin. Driven by extensive research on the factors that drive location decisions, our ads not only promote the jobs available here, but also Wisconsin’s exceptional quality of life, comparatively low cost of living, excellent educational system, short commute times and natural beauty.”

The ads also go out to alumni by sharing how their peers are thriving here.

“Ads targeting graduates of Wisconsin’s excellent colleges and universities feature first-hand accounts of alumni who have taken advantage of the professional and lifestyle opportunities Wisconsin offers, in many cases after returning from pursuing a career elsewhere.”

And the military gets its own fine-tuned pitch, too.

"Our marketing to transitioning military service members promotes Wisconsin as the best place in the nation for post-military life, given our state’s unmatched benefits for veterans,” he said.

To recruit talent, WEDC has even gone a little Hollywood, Lietz said.

“In addition to the paid social media strategy, WEDC promotes Wisconsin as an ideal career and lifestyle destination to millennials through our owned social channels — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Our 'Wisconsin Stories' video series, for example, features businesses and people throughout the state taking advantage of Wisconsin’s unique economic, cultural and natural assets to pursue their dreams.”

Is social media working?

“We saw a 5.6% increase among target audience members in willingness to consider moving to Wisconsin for a job opportunity following the first phase of our paid media campaign,” he said.

It sure needs to work.

“A combination of a booming economy, record-low unemployment rates, and an aging population has created workforce challenges for Wisconsin employers that will only get worse with time. We need a workforce development strategy that is equally focused on talent retention, development and attraction,” Lietz said.

The mighty scrum

The Valley’s healthcare providers, area Chambers of Commerce, and the state of Wisconsin have formed a mighty scrum, not to secure a ball, but to convey why Wisconsin is a prime place to work. When they persuade healthcare professionals to return to Wisconsin or move here, it’s not just Wisconsin that wins. The workers win a winning way of life.

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