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Apr 24, 201811:51 AMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

Keeping H-1B immigrants at home will help Wisconsin’s labor crunch

(page 2 of 2)

A steady stream of reports and events has underscored the need for workers in Wisconsin.

  • Gus Faucher, senior vice president and chief economist of The PNC Financial Services Group, told the Wisconsin Bankers Association in January that most signs point to a longer U.S. economic expansion — with the noteworthy exception of worker supply. That’s true in many states but more so in Wisconsin, he said, due to its low in-migration rate.
  • A new report on Wisconsin’s place in the advanced energy sector predicted the state could add 44,000 jobs a year, many of them tied to the production of sensors and controls. One of the drawbacks, the report noted, could be the supply of workers to fill those jobs.
  • Representatives of the New York-based Markle Foundation, which supports skill training and coaching projects, recently toured Wisconsin to size up what’s being done to develop the workforce. At every stop, they were told by business leaders, academics, and government officials that Wisconsin needs more workers now and for decades to come.

Consider this statement: “… Even if we are able to retrain Wisconsin’s entire unemployed population and match them with available jobs, we will still fall well short of filling the projected 925,000 jobs created or replaced between 2008 and 2018. This is because our working age population already peaked in 2010 and is projected to continue declining through at least 2035.”

That’s from a 2014 report to Gov. Scott Walker from a working group headed by Tim Sullivan, the former Bucyrus-Erie chief executive officer who was asked to study Wisconsin’s workforce needs. The conclusion: Legal immigration is good for the U.S. economy and Wisconsin shouldn’t miss the chance to attract talent it needs to remain competitive.

The H-1B program has its flaws because of “visas mills” in some parts of the world that have rigged the system, but they’ve been exposed and fixes are proposed. Comprehensive reform is needed, of course, and it remains to be seen if Congress would consider such a bill in an election year.

One hope for compromise has a Wisconsin angle: Speaker Paul Ryan. Now that he’s announced he won’t run for re-election, Ryan may be free to pursue an agenda that includes reform. He’s on record as saying, “We need to enable employers to hire foreign graduates of American universities. That way, they will use their American education for the betterment of the United States — not foreign competitors.”

Sending troops to the border is a short-term answer. The long-term solution is a system that works.

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About This Blog

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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