T.J. Brooks, dean of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse College of Business Administration, has been studying economic trends in western Wisconsin for two decades.
On Tuesday, Oct. 25, he’ll get another chance to exchange information with local business leaders during an Economic Indicators Breakfast set for 7-9 a.m. at The Bluffs in the UW-La Crosse Student Union.
Brooks has attended every breakfast except one since its inception in 2002. The breakfast is an opportunity to share results of a research project sponsored by State Bank Financial in collaboration with UW-La Crosse and the La Crosse Tribune.
While Brooks maintains a favorable outlook about the long-term economic health of western Wisconsin, he said local employers face immediate concerns about an unprecedented post-COVID-19 landscape that shrunk the labor force and disrupted supply chains.
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The title of the presentation, “Challenges in the Post-Pandemic Economy: Positioning Your Business and Workforce for Success,” mirrors concerns of local business leaders, Brooks said.
“It’s a very different labor market,” Brooks said. “I’m interested in hearing from companies about how they’re navigating the new norms of employment.”
Brooks said the labor market is “cooling” as the Federal Reserve Board hikes interest rates. However, he said business school graduates at UW-La Crosse are still looking at a wide-open job market.
“I was at dinner with a student last spring, and she had three job offers,” Brooks said. “She said she was going on another interview because she just wasn’t sure what she wanted.”
He describes the abundance of job options for recent graduates as “ahistorical.”
“It puts them in the driver’s seat in a way they weren’t previously,” he said.
Brooks said employers are also concerned about inflation and interest rates. He said inflation is particularly vexing because it makes it difficult for businesses to accurately compare the cost of inputs.
“When prices for everything are going up, it’s hard to distinguish when you have a permanent change in relative prices that should drive a change in business practice,” he said.
Brooks said he looks forward to hearing from business leaders. He said the breakfast is an opportunity to get “a sense of what people find interesting and useful.”
Despite the labor and inflation challenges, Brooks is optimistic about the local economy. He said the area boasts a diverse economy with sectors that are relatively resilient during an economic downturn.
“You sometimes see small regional economies that are tied to commodities — coal mining or something like that — and they lose half their population,” he said.
“We have a big manufacturing footprint, but we also have a very big education and health care footprint, and those things will continue to be very strong in the future. ... I think we’ll continue to see stable economic growth.”
La Crosse Tribune reporter Steve Rundio can be reached at email@example.com.