MOUNT PLEASANT — Racine County and southeastern Wisconsin have entered a unique period for manufacturing, development, employment and more, said panelists in Johnson Financial Group’s State of the Region Economic Forum, held Wednesday morning.
The invitation-only event, at the Delta Hotel by Marriott Racine, 7111 Washington Ave., drew about 100 non-JFG employees. The panel discussion followed a national and international economic overview by Brian Andrew, JFG’s chief investment officer.
When the four panelists were asked what is the most exciting thing happening in the county, Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave cited the return, with Foxconn Technology Group, of advanced manufacturing “so we can provide higher-wage, sustainable jobs to those who are under- or unemployed.”
Delagrave then made a bold promise. “We will do this: When we get to the goal of the City of Racine’s unemployment rate to match the state’s unemployment rate, I think it will show a lot about who we are, where we’re going, and to people who have lived in Racine County for a long time, it will give us something to be really proud about.”
Marty Hanley, president of Land & Lakes Development Co., was asked what strategic steps should be taken to make sure development is done correctly.
“What we need to do is share information,” Hanley responded. “It’s between the communities, the counties, the state and the developers. As a group, if we know what the community wants, we can satisfy those needs. We can provide the right facilities, the right type of housing.”
He praised Racine County Economic Development Corp. and Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce as two organizations that developers can go to for the information they need.
Hanley added, “Probably the biggest question mark from a development standpoint is obviously Foxconn and what their plan is and how that’s going to work out for everybody. Obviously, the sooner we know that, the easier it will be for us to facilitate development.”
Finding, developing talent
Asked about how to find skilled workers, RAMAC President Matt Montemurro pointed out that Gateway Technical College can provide training on-site at the workplace.
“That’s an incredible asset to our community to be able to provide that service to a company that may not be able to get their workforce to Gateway for a scheduled training that happens throughout the day,” he said.
High school youth apprenticeship programs are another piece of the answer, Montemurro said. “We are one of the leaders in the state with youth apprenticeship,” he said, with about 120 students currently involved — up from about 65 last year.
Kate Walker, RCEDC’s talent recruitment specialist for the county, talked about the ways in which talent is being sought, how those methods have changed and what companies should be doing to meet their needs.
“It’s changed tremendously in the last five to 10 years,” Walker said. “Gone are the days when you would post something with the hopes that somebody would respond to it; it was a little more passive transaction.
“Today, you’ve really got to get out there and tell your story; you’ve got to create a brand about your company and let people know what that is,” Walker continued. “You’ve got to share stories about what your companies are doing in the community because, quite frankly, talent has a lot of choices right now. … And your employees can be really critical in telling those stories and helping promote your brand.”
“The millennials are very interested in social aspects and being involved in the community.”
Walker described another effort underway. “We are creating a team of ambassadors from all 17 municipalities of Racine County that, as talent comes in, we can meet with them and show them different neighborhoods. We can show them rural settings, we can show them walkable neighborhoods, so that they know all the options that are out here and speak to people that actually live and work here and hear their perspective. We think that’s very important.”
“So far they have about 30 people who are very interested in being involved,” Walker said, and she will be adding a veterans’ element, to be able to acquaint incoming veterans with available resources.