Guest Column: Creative placemaking state investment key to attracting young workers

Anne Katz, Director of Create Wisconsin

The stakes have never been higher for Wisconsin. Continued economic prosperity statewide depends upon our ability to meet workforce needs and address equitable quality of life issues. The current reality is that there are not currently enough working adults to fill existing and projected jobs throughout Wisconsin, and the labor market only continues to tighten. 

Indeed, a new report titled “Moving In? Exploring Wisconsin’s Migration Challenges” by Forward Analytics, the nonpartisan research arm of the Wisconsin Counties Association, highlights Wisconsin’s workforce issues, including the ongoing challenges with attracting young people to the state. To address widening workforce gaps due to impending retirements, the report suggests a multipronged approach is needed to better attract talent, including bolstering amenities that appeal to young adults. 

Rural Wisconsin stakeholders had a similar unifying message to the Governor’s Commission on Rural Prosperity: “small investments in arts and culture can leverage big dividends in the viability of rural economies and local prosperity.” The Commission’s 2020 report recommends that “to ensure young and new people want to make rural Wisconsin their home, implement a strategy that includes support for the arts.”

Importantly, state investments in arts and culture as a strategy for a more prosperous economic future are on the rise. Earlier this year, Iowa Governor Terry Reynolds announced a  $100 million investment in Destination Iowa, a new grant program to support economic development, outdoor recreation, tourism and creative placemaking.  Arizona Governor Doug Dace recently approved a $5 million investment in the Arizona Commission on the Arts to improve opportunities for Arizonans to engage in the arts. The funding will also bring per-capita funding for the arts in Arizona up to a level comparable to such regional peer-states as Nevada and New Mexico.  

When it comes to per-capita funding for arts and culture, Wisconsin not only ranks 50th nationally in 2022, but lags significantly behind Minnesota which ranks third nationally at $7.34 per-capita, while Illinois is at $5.04 per capita. Coincidentally, Forward Analytics found that of the nearly 160,000 Wisconsin residents to move to a neighboring state between 2012 and 2020, more than 62,000 moved to Illinois while more than 65,000 moved to Minnesota. 

Now is the time for Wisconsin to invest in the creative economy to ensure that the state remains a place where people want to live, work, and play. Create Wisconsin is seeking state support for the Grow Wisconsin Creatively Initiative, an economic, workforce, and civic development program that can be a critical step in the state’s talent development and retention strategy. This investment will help to increase the number of people available to meet the job needs of our employers, as well as bolster state tourism efforts by fostering the growth and development of arts and cultural assets that are uniquely Wisconsin.

Contact Create Wisconsin ( for more information.