Improving the La Crosse area job market will hinge on limiting regulations and developing a skilled workforce, area business leaders told Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday in discussions about local job creation.

Local business executives met with the governor and members of his cabinet during Walker’s visit to Main Street Ingredients.

Walker’s La Crosse visit was the first stop in a jobs-themed tour aimed at connecting the governor with employers across Wisconsin.

“The national economy is kind of like a wet blanket,” Walker said. “We want to punch through that wet blanket.”

Walker plans to add a quarter-million new jobs in four years, but any sign of progress locally is overshadowed by the loss of more than 800 jobs from July to August in the La Crosse metro area, and the loss of more than 1,400 jobs since August 2010. Unemployment was 6 percent last month, down slightly from the previous year, partly because some have stopped searching for work.

Outside the meeting, a group of about 40 people protested near the entrance to Main Street Ingredients, chanting “jobs, not cuts.”

Retired teacher Mark Kartman attended the protest because of the blow to collective bargaining rights for public unions.

“I’m concerned about what he’s done to the unions,” Kartman said.

Inside, Walker said slimming regulations is one way to help businesses overcome many of the financial hurdles they face in the down economy.

“We’ve got to remove other barriers to make it easier to build more jobs,” he said.

Another issue faced by employers is finding capable staff. Job applications come in, but many times the candidate isn’t properly trained to do the work demanded of them, or willing to work a later shift, said Jim Brush, owner of Empire Screen Printing.

“There’s not a lot of qualified people,” he said.

Industry growth has changed the demands put on workers, and many younger hires aren’t coming equipped with the proper skills, said John Lautz, the owner of Lautz Custom Builders.

“We need that educated, hands-on, blue-collar workforce,” he said. “We need to start making sure that the state doesn’t overlook that.”

Walker agreed, saying the state and technical colleges need to work closer together to make sure students are trained in the skills demanded by the today’s workplace.

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