To combat a declining and aging population, the 7 Rivers Alliance is hoping to get WISE.
The regional business development organization unveiled the strategies it hopes to put in place through its 10-year Workforce Innovation for a Strong Economy plan Wednesday at its annual State of the Region Luncheon. These strategies intend to address issues of talent retention, recruitment and training over the short, medium and long term.
“The hope is that if we can show some successes, we can get more buy-in and participation from the region,” 7 Rivers CEO Chris Hardie said. “The key is to maintain and build upon those successes.”
Some of the key challenges facing the region were highlighted in the State of the Workforce presentations given by regional economists Bill Brockmiller of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and Mark Schultz of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
The region’s demographics are tricky, they both said, as projections call for a declining population and an aging workforce. There is also the issue of outmigration and the fact that many workers in southeast Minnesota actually commute out of the region for work, further limiting the pool of skilled candidates.
By 2030, there will be a predicted decline of 6,000 people in the labor force in southeast Minnesota, Schultz said. Employers and educators are going to have to tap into new labor markets such as ex-offenders, minority populations and those who don’t have a high school diploma if they want to increase the pipeline of workers.
“There is about one job seeker per vacancy,” he said. “And who knows if that one person has the training or desire for that position.”
Strategies outlined in the plan include efforts to increase job skills in students and current workers, promotional campaigns to bring targeted groups of job seekers to the region, programs to assist newly arrived families to the region and efforts to tackle the bubble of retiring Baby Boomers.
The skills gap, aging populations and the tight supply of workers have been a perennial issue facing the region as well as the nation. Hardie said these issues have been discussed before, but having the WISE plan strategies will allow the region to dedicate some serious resources to filling gaps and overcoming challenges.
“These strategies are well thought out and came from the people who are directly impacted,” he said. “We have a good base to begin these plans.”
The State of the Region luncheon also included honors for this year’s group of Risings Stars Under 40, two dozen community leaders honored by River Valley Media and the 7 Rivers Alliance. Hardie also released results of the group’s annual executive business survey, which looked at the opinions of business leaders on topics from the state of the economy to the quality of the region’s internet infrastructure.
The Opportunity Center of Prairie du Chien received the inaugural Lee Rasch Community Partnership Award. The award was created to honor the work of nonprofit organizations and their partnerships with public and private sector organizations in the region.
It is named in honor of a founder of the 7 Rivers Alliance and the longtime leader of Western Technical College, Lee Rasch. It is co-sponsored by Western and Wipfli, and includes a $1,000 award.
The Opportunity Center has been in Prairie du Chien since 1965 working with people with disabilities. In the middle of the Great Recession in 2009, the center decided to focus on building local food partnerships, developing the Sharing Spaces Kitchen and Greenhouse, Café Hope and Unity adult day care.
“Lee Rasch had a gift of making sure people in rural areas had access to education while he served as president of Western Technical College,” Wipfli partner and award judge Mary Jo Werner said in her remarks. “Individuals located in rural communities experience difficulty in getting access to many services. The Opportunity Center fills needs in their community.”
Rising Stars: 24 community leaders in the 7 Rivers Region
For the second year, the River Valley Media Group and the 7 Rivers Alliance are honoring two dozen people younger than 40 for making a positive difference in our part of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. They represent transportation and education, health care and private business, economic development and counseling. They all inspire others to better serve our communities.