Newsmakers, December 3, 2015

Air Date:
Heard On Newsmakers
Dr. Lisa Herr and Terry Whipple
Dr. Lisa Herr and Terry Whipple

Hope Kirwan/WPR

Regional Business Development

Regional business owners say they need a more skilled workforce to help grow.

A survey of 125 businesses in western Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa shows three out of four businesses are having trouble finding skilled workers, and one-third of those businesses are planning to replace the current workforce with people who are more advanced.

The 2015 Business Climate Survey was commissioned by the 7 Rivers Alliance, a La Crosse-based organization that fosters business growth.

Juneau County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Terry Whipple said since the Great Recession, manufacturing has actually been on the upswing in Juneau County, while retail in rural communities has suffered.

“We’re in a changing economy and changing workforce where when you look at the technologies that are brought in a factory, it doesn’t need somebody to just take a widget and put on a belt, it takes somebody to program a machine,” Wipple said. “They’re looking for higher skill sets and people have to be willing to retrain themselves maybe many times in their lives to be marketable in the workforce.”

He said a big challenge for companies in rural communities is attracting and retaining a skilled workforce that may want the amenities offered in urban areas.

7 Rivers Alliance Executive Director Dr. Lisa Herr said one of the missions of businesses in the region is to point out to potential new employees that the quality of life is pretty high.

“Companies are now looking at issues that they’ve never had to address before,” said Herr. “Those issues would be transportation; how is my workforce getting to and from work. Quality of life; is there adequate housing and neighborhoods that would attract and retain my workforce. What is the quality of the schools? Businesses are getting involved in economic development because they have to, to keep the workforce they want.”

Herr said the region has seen a strong growth in organic food processing, which she expects to continue and be a major player in the new economy, one that is more about doing business worldwide rather than what’s available on Main St.

by John Davis

Episode Credits

  • Hope Kirwan Host
  • John Davis Producer
  • Dr. Lisa Herr Guest
  • Terry Whipple Guest