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Workforce development continues to struggle in region

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CORRECTION: In the video, it is indicated that the Child Care Summit will take place on December 4. It should say the Housing Summit will take place December 4. WXOW regrets the error.

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) — Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis president and CEO Neel Kashkari addressed the 7 Rivers Alliance annual ‘State of the Region’ at UW-La Crosse.

It was one part of a day-long summit looking at the challenges and successes of the regional economy.

The goal of Kashkari’s visit was to learn more about what’s happening in local economies around his district and see if that translates to what’s happening on a larger scale.

Kashkari represents the ninth district which includes northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Montana.

In terms of the overall economy within the district and throughout the United States, Kashkari noted that things are good but have lost steam compared to the past six months to a year.

“The economy has done better over the past few years but there seems to be some slow down,” said Kashkari. “A lot of businesses that export around the world are seeing some weakness because of the global economy because of tariffs and trade battles. ”

The former aerospace engineer did an interactive question and answer segment where students and attendees could ask questions with microphones. The audience could also text responses based on questions prompted by Kashkari.

Locally, 7 Rivers Alliance CEO Chris Hardie and members of the organization addressed results from their annual executive summary and pinpointed some of the challenges facing the region’s business economy.

“The workforce challenge still remains across the board,” said Hardie. “Of course, different industries eb and flow as the economy changes, but I think, across the board, we still need to attract more people to the region.”

Two years ago, 7 Rivers Alliance launched their long-term workforce development plan which identified three areas affecting the economy of workforce development.

“The challenges were really rooted in three areas, and that was child care, transportation, and housing,” said Hardie.

Those challenges continue today. Hardie evaluated the progress on their strategies to bring the hurdles down, and attract more talent to the region.

At the current rate, the workforce gap will be just under 16,000 by 2026.

A summit has been or will be dedicated to each of these challenge areas to foster solutions. So far, four strategies are in progress with no conclusion or results. Six strategies have not been started. 12 strategies are ongoing with some results.

The upper Mississippi has multiple colleges like Winona State, UW-La Crosse, Western Technical College, and Viterbo University that produce talent each semester.

“In recent years, the job market has been strong and people who graduate from great universities like here at the University of Wisconsin really have a leg up in their search for jobs,” said Kashkari.

Hardie believes the communication needs to be stronger to keep some of that talent here.

“We need to create more awareness among those students about the opportunities that are right here,” said Hardie. “Since many of them come from other parts of the state, there awareness about our community might not extend as far as it should, so we need to a better job communicating with them.”

 

Mike Beiermeister

WXOW Weekend Anchor and Reporter

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