Wisconsin

If a Jeopardy contestant was given the answer, “American city with beautiful waterfront and very strong local support of the arts,” the contestant might answer something like, “What is San Francisco?”

Another answer, believe it or not, could be “What is Milwaukee?” 

I met with several recruiters and recruiting executives here in Milwaukee today (and yesterday, Madison).

The list of big companies headquartered or with large operations in Milwaukee is long: Harley-Davidson, Miller, Manpower, Rockwell Automation, Johnson Controls, Kohls, and many more, including several large health care companies.
 
The local economy’s performance the last few years has been uneven, but everyone I talked to is optimistic and feels that the decline in American manufacturing prowess is overblown. With the manufacturing workforce relatively old, skilled employees are in demand. (As an aside, there is some debate here about whether the aging of the American workforce will result in fewer Harleys being sold, or whether the new generation will pick up all the slack).
 
Rockwell Automation — whose four-sided clock is the largest in the world, proudly surpassing Big Ben — is currently looking hard for experts in Six Sigma and lean manufacturing. There aren’t enough of these folks in the area, so Rockwell will try to import them from elsewhere in the United States or overseas.
 
To do that, it will have to sell an American city that’s not perceived as particularly sexy. The recruiting team feels that if candidates come here and see it for themselves, they’ll feel differently–though let’s just say that Winter isn’t the best time to drop in.
 
Rockwell recruiters are also building relationships with a select list of colleges: some with large minority or historically black populations as well as other schools, particularly those that are strong in the sciences such as Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Carnegie-Mellon, and elsewhere.
 
Madison, where I was yesterday, has quite a different rep. It is to the annual “best places to live” lists what Southwest Airlines is to “best places to work” lists. It’s a perfect city for small-towners who want the “big city” and couldn’t fathom life in Chicago, and for many Badger alumni who want to live in a college town with job opportunities, such as in biotech, not found in the smaller college towns that dot the Midwest.
 
Despite all that, unemployment is low in Madison, and employers are working on branding initiatives as well as some “secret-shopping” to analyze competitors’ hiring practices. They’re trying to improve their use of technology using tools to source and find passive candidates, such as those from AIRS, ZoomInfo, and other companies. Like in Milwaukee, Madison recruiters are starting to meet with each other more frequently to network and share best practices.
 
From talking to people hiring in Wisconsin, the decline of manufacturing does indeed seem a tad overrated. And Midwestern winters aren’t as brutal as they where in the 1970s and 80s, when I was delivering the local paper in Columbus, Ohio. If Rockwell can fly six sigma blackbelts in during the summer, it may not have such a tough sell.
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