Addressing the worker shortage affecting the Chippewa Valley is the top issue that local business leaders want state politicians to tackle in 2018.
About 100 business representatives from Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls and Menomonie will travel on Wednesday to the state Capitol for the 24th annual Chippewa Valley Rally, a daylong series of meetings with state legislators.
They’ll be talking about workforce challenges, public education, transportation needs and rural broadband expansion, according to the issue booklet for the rally.
“Workforce has emerged as the No. 1 challenge of the business community in the Chippewa Valley,” states the booklet, which was prepared by area chambers of commerce.
To address that, the business representatives will ask legislators to increase funding for talent attraction and retention, including a $6.8 million boost to a marketing campaign that is intended to attract talented workers from neighboring states.
Worker shortages have been on the rally’s agenda in prior years, but it has become a greater concern as unemployment continues to fall and the economy creates more jobs, said Scott Rogers, governmental affairs and workforce director for the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s been there before, but it’s increased in importance,” he said.
Chambers of commerce in Eau Claire, Menomonie and Chippewa Falls came together to develop the issue agenda in months leading up to the rally.
The issues booklet also asks politicians to reconsider the old formula in place for public school district revenue limits, come up with a long-range solution to transportation funding and work to expand broadband service in rural areas.
On Wednesday, ralliers will load up on coach buses in the morning or carpool on the trip to Madison.
Ninety-nine have registered, Rogers said, which is the largest contingent in recent years — up from about 90 that attended the past couple rallies.
Area chambers made efforts to increase awareness of the rally this year, Rogers said, and there is a larger turnout of Young Professionals than in years past.
After arriving in Madison, the Chippewa Valley contingent will split into small groups, allowing the rally to have a total of 110 meetings with legislators or their staffs throughout the day.
“We have our teams of four people visit as many legislative of offices as possible,” Rogers said.
In the middle of the day, the entire group is scheduled for a lunch address from Gov. Scott Walker.
A reception will cap off the event so legislators have an informal chance to meet with Chippewa Valley businesspeople before they depart for home.
Along with requests for future action, the businesses will bring updates on what previous state assistance has brought to the Chippewa Valley.
One example is the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.’s help in bringing a $64 million Mills Fleet Farm distribution center to Chippewa Falls, which opened late last year.
The Confluence Arts Center, a downtown Eau Claire project that got $15 million in state aid, also is being touted as a success story even before its doors open later this year.
“Now nearing completion, it is the linchpin in a community revitalization that has led to well over $100 million in additional private development,” the rally booklet states.
Those private developments include software company Jamf’s office building and two completely remodeled hotels that cited the arts center as influential in their decision to do business in downtown Eau Claire, Rogers said.
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