Worker incentives gaining popularity in Midwest, but still rare in Wisconsin

For decades, programs that offer public dollars to businesses as incentives to create jobs have played a prominent role in state and local economic development strategies. Now, according to a report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum, a new approach has begun to gain popularity: offering incentives to individual workers instead.

Such incentives are often, though not always, aimed at enticing workers untethered to a specific location who work remotely, most of whom are employed in higher-earning white-collar occupations. Some incentives are paid in cash, while others come in different forms.

Wisconsin Policy Forum researched the national landscape and found Midwest states have the most communities offering these incentives. Compared to its Midwest peers, however, Wisconsin has been slower to embrace this approach. Like other economic development incentives, this approach can be controversial since it targets benefits to a relatively small number of individuals in a community — while potentially delivering minimal benefits for the population as a whole, the report finds.