Skating to the puck: Policymakers should keep eye on emerging sources of jobs

Hockey great Wayne Gretzky is credited with proclaiming, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Maybe Gretzky should have become an economist after he hung up his hockey gear. His advice is salient off the ice as well as on.

As members of the Wisconsin Legislature suit up for the start of their 2015 session and a budget debate that is likely to last until summer, they should skate toward the “puck” of predicted economic growth rather than chasing prosperity where it was years ago.

Sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture will continue to fuel the Wisconsin economy in many ways, of course, but they will not necessarily lead the charge in the creation of net new jobs.

As the economy continues to transform itself nationally, globally, and in Wisconsin, other sectors more in line with changing conditions are producing comparable if not greater numbers of jobs. Quite often, those emerging sectors are yielding the best-paying jobs as well.

Wisconsin must recognize changes in the national and global economies and understand how to make those shifts work for Wisconsin. Here are national forecasts that help to tell the story: 

Total employment is expected to increase nationally by 14% from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That follows a 2% decline in 2000-2010. However, the 20.5 million jobs expected to be added by 2020 will not be evenly distributed across major industry and occupational groups. Changes in consumer demand, improvements in technology, and other factors will contribute to the nation’s changing employment structure, the BLS noted.

The Georgetown University Center on the Economy and Workforce took it a step further with state-specific figures that help shed light on Wisconsin’s need for workers with post-secondary education and training.

By 2020, the center predicted, Wisconsin will have 649,000 job openings that will require at least some post-secondary training, compared to 392,000 that will not. Georgetown analysts also predicted that 62% of all jobs in Wisconsin will require some post-secondary training by 2020. If you think that sounds high, the national estimate is 65%.

Here is where the Georgetown report expects jobs to be added in selected major sectors in Wisconsin:

Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting: Up 310 jobs from 89,110 in 2010 to 89,420 in 2020 — 0% growth.

Construction: Up 6,270 jobs from 130,200 in 2010 to 136,470 in 2020 — 5% growth.

Manufacturing: Up 13,460 jobs from 367,890 in 2010 to 381,350 in 2020 — 4% growth.

Wholesale and retail trade: Up 26,790 jobs from 402,330 in 2010 to 429,120 in 2020 — 6.6% growth.

Finance and insurance: Up 28,810 jobs from 157,390 in 2010 to 186,200 in 2020 — 18% growth.

Professional, scientific, and technical services: Up 14,890 jobs from 127,510 in 2010 to 142,400 in 2020 — 12% growth.

Administrative, support, waste management, and remediation: Up 34,050 jobs from 138,790 in 2010 to 172,840 in 2020 — 25% growth

Health care and social assistance: Up 66,470 jobs from 325,220 in 2010 to 391,690 in 2020 — 20% growth.



Other significant Wisconsin categories predicted to show double-digit growth in employment are information (10%), arts, design, entertainment, and recreation (28%), educational services (27%), management of companies and enterprises (17%), and transportation and warehousing (11%).

What can policymakers do to help Wisconsin seize the moment? Republicans and Democrats alike can focus on four themes: enhancing Wisconsin’s startup and scale-up business climate; building the state’s supply of knowledge-based human capital; improving access to investment capital for Wisconsin entrepreneurs; and improving technology development, delivery, and transfer from the lab bench to the marketplace.

Beyond that, policymakers can simply stay out of the way and not enact regulations or prohibitions that hamper Wisconsin’s ability to compete. Given the choice in a tight budget year, however, they can invest in sectors likely to grow versus industries that may not need the help or have peaked.

Wisconsin’s growth depends on attracting and retaining companies and people in industries that add diversity and resilience to the economy. If policymakers want to keep Wisconsin’s young people at home and attract them from elsewhere, the state must exude a sense of opportunity, collaboration, and excitement … and skate toward the puck where it is heading.

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