Your Voice is Our Voice

The Alliance Continues to Advocate For You

As featured in the January 2020 Accelerate Magazine: Amanda Payne
Senior Vice President, Public Policy, Waukesha County Business Alliance

Is Waukesha County thriving? How do we continue to develop the economy, drive business, support employers and grow the county? These are the questions that members of the Alliance policy committees, Policy Board and Board of Directors consider when putting together the Alliance’s annual Policy Agenda and outlining priorities for the coming year.

A survey of Waukesha County businesses in September of 2019 reported that 84 percent of employers plan to expand their workforce in the next three years. That number has held steady for Waukesha County companies since 2015, pointing to the need for continued focus on workforce development. While 76 percent of employers cite “lack of qualified talent” as the primary challenge for staff recruitment, that number ticked down a bit, from 82 percent in 2017. We’re optimistic that the drop is, in part, a result of the nearly 50 programs we’ve launched to connect businesses with students and teachers, helping to pique students’ interest in career pathways. In 10 years, these business education efforts have reached more than 10,000 students – a number we’re proud of and hope to continue growing.

As businesses continue looking for innovative ways to find employees, more than half of Waukesha County employers now offer tuition reimbursement, and 20 percent of them are actively recruiting employees from other states. Our organization is proud to represent both large and small businesses and we’re continually working on solutions that meet the needs of all employers, no matter their size. While small companies may not have the resources to recruit nationally, the Alliance is working to support regional and state efforts to drive a comprehensive, statewide talent attraction campaign so that we may continue to bring people to the great state of Wisconsin. It was encouraging to see new 2019 Census data that reported Wisconsin had a net gain of 8,824 people in 2018 as a result of migration to our state. This is positive news for workforce and reverses a trend that had been going in the wrong direction in previous years.

Data from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue demonstrates that Waukesha County has been experiencing strong business growth since 2014 – the County’s average real wage has been on the rise since 2014 and Waukesha County’s unemployment rate of 2.6 percent is the lowest in a generation. The City of Waukesha set a record low of 2.8 percent in 2018. The Alliance’s own survey results support the notion that Waukesha County is thriving: when business owners are asked how they consider Waukesha County as a place to do business, respondents who answer with either “somewhat desirable or very desirable” has steadily increased – from 88 percent in 2015, to 91 percent in 2019.

When we think about the coming year and what’s needed to continue driving economic growth and make Waukesha County the best place to do business, our organization is focused on several priorities: workforce development, education, infrastructure, economic development and government efficiency. We believe those represent key areas of opportunity in the coming year, and as the largest business association in Waukesha County, we can have significant impact in those issue areas through strong advocacy and regional leadership.

Business leaders on our policy committees and Policy Board have identified specific strategies for each of those issues, such as supporting programs that help targeted populations enter or re-enter the workforce. We continue to connect employers with programs like the Joseph Project, a career placement program endorsed by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, in partnership with Greater Praise Church of God in Christ on Milwaukee’s north side. In 2019, we supported legislation on expungement reform, aimed at bringing the expungement process in Wisconsin in-line with most of the rest of the country.

For years, our organization has advocated to streamline the credit transfer process among higher education institutions in Wisconsin. Last year, we were proud to support legislation that did just that, which was signed into law as Act 46 by Governor Tony Evers in November.

We advocated for statewide, sustainable, long-term transportation funding solutions and were encouraged with the additional $393 million added to transportation funding in the state budget. We believe these additional dollars were a step in the right direction, although a long-term solution remains a critical need for our state.

In 2020, we will continue to advocate for the state’s apprenticeship and youth apprenticeship programs. We will continue to support and advocate for a talent attraction program to help meet all our employers’ workforce challenges. We will focus on increasing Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) education for our K-12 students and opportunities for students to obtain career experience and exposure while in school. We will support pro-business tax and regulatory measures that make Wisconsin competitive, including the use of use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) as an economic development tool.

We’re often asked how business leaders can get involved in our advocacy efforts. If you’re looking for a hands-on approach, we have three policy committees – Education, Economic Development and Infrastructure – which offer opportunities for our members to be involved. Monthly, we host a program called One-on-One With Public Officials and encourage business leaders to attend. These programs provide a forum for you to speak directly with public officials to share your experiences, challenges and ideas so that public leaders regularly hear from those in the private sector about what’s working, or not working.

If a committee or program isn’t for you, considering reaching out to share your feedback with our staff directly – the more we hear from you about what stands in the way of your business growing, the more we can advocate on your behalf to remove those barriers. And if you don’t have the opportunity to get involved directly, know that our staff is working on your behalf to drive economic growth in Waukesha County and make this a great place to do business. Businesses that invest in the Alliance help support those efforts and give us an even stronger voice. Whether you have time to be actively involved or not, we hope you know that as a member of the Alliance, your voice is our voice.