May 25, 2022
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The video coverage below was graciously provided to Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. by our broadcasting partner WisconsinEye. To watch the complete event program, please watch at Wisconsin Tomorrow: Early Care and Education.

Program Coverage
















La Crosse Early Care & Education Summit Media Coverage

Childcare & Early Education Summit held at Western Technical College in La Crosse
Business leaders, government officials gather to discuss solutions to lack of affordable child care


Solving the childcare crisis will take more than just one organization to bring a solution

State and local leaders discuss solutions for childcare shortages



Jim Wood: Leadership and collaboration are the key to stronger, better Wisconsin

For more than 40 years, Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. (CWI), a non-partisan collaborative organization has been dedicated to identifying and helping public and private sector leaders address the major challenges affecting the quality of life and opportunity in Wisconsin.

In that capacity, CWI has worked with local and state leaders on economic, educational, developmental, rural, employment, and demographic challenges. CWI is now working with leaders across the state to address a major challenge that touches all of these areas and that requires an even more robust collaboration between the public and private sectors. 

The challenge is easy to describe. Wisconsin lacks the workforce and population we need to support and grow our economy, pay for essential public services and secure our future. On nearly any given day in Wisconsin, for example, more than 100,000 jobs openings are going unfilled. And, because the shortages are systemic (e.g., declining birth rates, aging workforce and low to negative in-migration) they can only be addressed in the foreseeable future by keeping the workers we already have and aggressively recruiting significantly more people to live and work in Wisconsin.

Other states face similar challenges, and recruitment and retention of workers has become considerably more competitive. More specifically, the employment marketplace is now a “seller’s” market in which younger workers want good jobs in vibrant communities and employers and community leaders know they cannot recruit the workers they need unless they are competitive when it comes to broadband, housing, early childhood care and education, health care, transportation, quality of life and opportunity, energy, and rural revitalization.

The COVID pandemic exacerbated these challenges; intensified the competition; and left Wisconsin communities struggling to keep up with the competition. Then, in April 2021 local governments in Wisconsin learned that they would be receiving more than $3.2 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which meant that there would be an opportunity for Wisconsin communities and regions to invest the ARPA funds in strategic improvements that could leverage their existing resources and make Wisconsin more competitive in the pursuit for talent.

Seizing this opportunity will require research, innovation, hard work, enhanced public awareness and, most importantly, leadership and collaboration. CWI is persuaded the parties must not only cooperate with each other, but must also be in agreement regarding the challenges and opportunities being addressed; have identified mutual goals and priorities; and while understanding the need to address the concerns of others when possible, see achieving the goals identified as of paramount importance.

CWI feels strongly that the private sector must engage effectively with this opportunity because we, like local elected officials and other community leaders, understand that vibrant communities are essential to our efforts to recruit and retain workers and grow our local economies.

We have identified three specific areas in which we believe we can be helpful, including: 1) enhancing decision-maker awareness of research and resources relevant to their needs and options; 2) showcasing proven managerial analytical approaches for determining and assessing options; and 3) sharing resources and skill sets with local and regional decision-makers as they plan, act and manage their ARPA investments.

CWI is currently working with leaders from the 7 Rivers Alliance, the Wisconsin Counties Association, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Western Technical College, American Family Insurance, Gundersen Health System, Dairyland Power and others on an in-person and virtual action accelerator dedicated to determining and assessing options related to early care and education. CWI is also now developing an action accelerator focused on workforce transportation with leaders from and in the Madison Region Economic Partnership and will be developing collaborations on broadband, housing, health care, energy, community quality of life and opportunity, and rural resurgence in other locations around the state in the weeks ahead.

-- A recent survey found 19 percent of child care centers in La Crosse County are on the verge of closing due to staffing shortages, according to The Parenting Place Executive Director Jodi Widuch.

"It's 372 slots -- that's enormous," she said yesterday during an event focused on child care and early education. It was hosted at the Western Tech's Lunda Center in La Crosse by the 7 Rivers Alliance and Competitive Wisconsin with co-hosts UW-La Crosse, the Wisconsin Counties Association and the tech college.

Widuch explained the March survey found this shortage was linked to low compensation levels and inadequate benefits.

"The point to that is this situation continues to get worse ... there really is urgency to figuring out the workforce and the compensation so that child care centers can fill those open positions," she said.

Panelists said this problem isn't unique to the La Crosse area, noting the shortage in affordable child care options represents a major workforce challenge throughout the state. Widuch and Ruth Schmidt, executive director of the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, agreed that pay for these workers needs to rise for the industry to stay afloat.

Schmidt said infant care in the state costs about $12,000 per year, which "is not enough to end up paying for the cost of that care" in a child care program.

"The true cost of care needs to be enough to actually compensate the teachers at the level that is commensurate with their education," she said. "Our association pushes to move compensation towards parity with our K-12 schools based on education levels."

Widuch echoed the sentiment, arguing child care worker pay "needs to be in parity with what these professionals can earn in another sector" to keep them onboard.

But at the same time, other panelists said the current cost of child care in some cases is keeping other people -- particularly women -- out of the workforce, as it can make more financial sense for them to take care of their own children.

"It's a very complex issue. It's going to take equally complex solutions and a wide variety of them," Widuch said.

Schmidt noted over 80 percent of the child care workforce have education outside of high school and over 55 percent have at least an associate's or bachelor's degree. Workers in at-home family child care programs earn $7.40 per hour after expenses on average, while those at child care centers usually earn between $12 and $13, she said.

While many of these workers stay in the industry for years, Schmidt said over 35 percent of them rely on public assistance and 25 percent of classroom teachers in these programs experience food insecurity due to low wages.

"It is not surprising that 75 percent of child care programs in Wisconsin are in the process of trying to hire people, and if they can't hire people, they have to close classrooms, they have to increase waitlists, they have to reduce hours of operation," she said. "So this is a real tenacious workforce -- they stick around, they're resilient -- but at some point, we hit a breaking point."

Chris Hardie, CEO of the 7 Rivers Alliance, said any solutions to the state's child care issues need to start at the local level, pointing to potential partnerships between businesses and child care centers in their communities. He said companies could purchase a certain number of slots each year, guaranteeing income for the centers and helping them to expand.

"They might be right on that cusp of, they can't handle any more kids with existing staff but if they know that they could have four more slots -- or whatever the number is -- they can add more staff," he said. "So there's those kinds of conversations where you can form partnerships with existing child care centers to strengthen the infrastructure we already have."

In hopes of addressing some of the state's early care challenges, the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association recently launched a new advocacy initiative called Raising Wisconsin. It's aimed at improving child care infrastructure, supporting the industry's workforce and "investing in optimal child health and well-being," a release shows.

See more on the Raising Wisconsin effort here:

-- Also during yesterday's event, a La Crosse County official and the director of a local child care program differed on how to best spend ARPA dollars to address child care issues.

Brian Fukuda, a community development specialist for the county, discussed a pilot program with the School District of La Crosse that would use some of the county's American Rescue Plan Act allocation to convert classrooms into child care centers for young children.

"The benefits of that is it would take advantage of existing capacities that the district has," he said. "The county funding would be used to make those one-time modifications and renovations to the space to be able to use classroom spaces within schools to offer child care."

Angie Wells, program director for the Coulee Children's Center, questioned why the pilot program would seek to establish a new child care option while programs like hers are struggling to hire workers.

"Why spend all [those] dollars to renovate when there's already existing programs that have those spaces available that you don't have to renovate and buy new materials for?" she asked, noting resources like books and furniture likely represent a significant portion of the spending.

As an alternative, she suggested partnering with "programs already out there that are struggling to find those staff."

In response, Fukuda noted the pilot program is meant to develop "long-term partnerships, bringing new revenue streams and new players" into the market. He said existing providers are "doing incredible work," but added "without new revenue streams, it's just not working. It's a broken economic model."

While he conceded subsidizing wages in the industry "needs to be a top priority," he said using one-time ARPA funding to do so can't be a long-term solution.

"When those ARPA funds run out, and we've used those funds to subsidize wages for existing child care providers, what happens in year four?" he said. "Do those wages have to go back to, you know, what they're making now? That's going to completely gut the industry."

-- A representative for Gundersen Health System says the La Crosse-based care provider is losing doctors due to a lack of child care options in the area.

Nathan Franklin, director of external affairs for the health system, highlighted this issue yesterday at the event in La Crosse.

"I've only been with Gundersen about two years, and I can no longer count on two hands the number of talented, very promising young professional women -- in all cases -- who have left our organization because they couldn't find child care, or the child care they could find just erased their salary," Franklin said.

He noted the shortage of affordable child care options is affecting organizations at all levels. In Gundersen's case, that ranges from frontline workers and support staff to physicians and other professionals, he said.

"If we don't start to wrap our brains and our hands around this issue now, our next generation of leaders is going to be dealing with this issue in spades," he said.

This problem is compounded by demographic changes in the health care workforce, panelists at yesterday's event said.

Heather Schimmers, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer for the health system, pointed to the "silver tsunami" phenomenon, noting many older professionals are retiring early.

"Before 2020 ... we had a very nice, even split in the nursing profession of younger nurses joining the workforce and what I like to call our wisdom nurses," she said. "Those are those nurses that have been committed to the profession that are just strong and are just bringing up this younger workforce. That has completely flipped."

Now, she said a larger portion of registered nurses at the health system are between the ages of 25 and 40.

"Think about what we're talking about today. I have to recruit those people. I have to get them to this community," she said. "I have 190 acute care RN openings right now in La Crosse."

InsideWis: Easing early childhood education woes part of solving worker shortage


Date and time

Thursday, April 14, 2022
8:00 AM – 1:00 PM CDT

Location (In Person)

Lunda Center - Western Technical College
319 7th Street North
La Crosse, WI 54601

An event dedicated to helping local leaders focus on opportunities to utilize ARPA funds for long-term impacts on Early Care and Education

Local elected officials, employers and other community and regional leaders have identified eight key areas of focus that will help to address the most pressing systemic challenges they face in recruiting and retaining the workforce needed to support and grow the economy; pay for essential public services and secure the future. Those eight areas include: early care and education; broadband access; workforce housing; transportation; energy; health care; rural resurgence; and community quality of life and opportunity. This Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. Be Bold Action Accelerator event is dedicated to focusing on the challenges and opportunities surrounding the issue of Early Care and Education in Wisconsin.

Click Here for In-Person Registration

Click Here for Virtual Registration


Event Program





Early Care & Education Challenges in Wisconsin and the 7 Rivers Alliance Region 


 A Closer Look at the Early Care and Education Challenges in the 7 Rivers Region

American Recovery Plan Act Summit: Focus on Early Care and Education (La Crosse Focus)

Raising Wisconsin: The Power of Community to Support Child Care (WECA/Raising Wisconsin Summit 4/5/22) 


Bold Ideas: Investing in Early Childhood Development as a Recruitment & Retention Strategy


Business Leaders Supporting Childcare (Ready Nation - View Full Article Here)



Childcare in Rural Wisconsin: Unique Challenges & Solutions (WECA)


1. Want to Strengthen Wisconsin's Economy? Fix the Childcare Crisis (Ready Nation Council for a Strong America)

2. Sheboygan County - American Rescue Plan Act Funds (ARPA) – Childcare Taskforce

3. The American Rescue Plan: Recommendations for Addressing Early Educator Compensation and Supports (THE CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF CHILD CARE EMPLOYMENT (CSCCE) UC Berkley)

4. Organic Valley CROPP & Childcare: Needs Assessment and Feasibility Study Overview (2019 Presentation to 7 Rivers Alliance)

5. The Effects of Investing in Early Education on Economic Growth - Brookings

6. Invest in Early Childhood Development: Reduce Deficits, Strengthen the Economy - The Heckman Equation

7. INVEST IN A STRONG START FOR CHILDREN (The Center for High Impact Philanthropy - University of Pennsylvania)

8. Female Labor Force Participation Is Key to Our Economic Recovery (Ready Nation)

9. Illinois Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding


1. Childcare Is a Business Issue (Harvard Business Review)

2. Transforming the Financing of Early Childhood Education: A Statement from the National Power to the Profession Task Force (National Association for the Education of Young Children)

3. Business Leaders Supporting Childcare (Ready Nation) 

4. COVID Brought Attention To Early Childhood Education. Here’s How Investors Are Responding. (EdSurge)

Jim Buchheim

Community and Social Impact Officer, American Family Insurance
Member, Competitive Wisconsin Inc. Board of Directors


1.) How to calculate Loss Revenue

2.) How to calculate Loss Revenue; U.S. Treasury, page 51

3.) How did the Feds come up with 4.1% as the number to use in the formula?

4.) Guidance from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue for ARPA



1. Could ARPA dollars be used on improving communications among law enforcement agencies?

2. Have there been conversations/entities looking at options to put in renewable energy in infrastructure?

3. Using American Rescue Plan Act Funds for Water, Wastewater and Stormwater Infrastructure

4. Are communities exploring connections between open access broadband infrastructure in connection with road infrastructure efforts? Council on Foreign Relations, Robert Knake, Senior Fellow



1. Could broadband be treated as a public utility? Contact the WI PSC.

2. The Governor's Task Force Report on Broadband

3. Broadband Internet and the Wisconsin Economy; Report from University of Wisconsin, Extension

4. Broadband in Rural Wisconsin: Identifying Gaps, Highlighting Successes - Forward Analytics



1. Information on early childhood care, development and education

2. The Effects of Investing in Early Education on Economic Growth - Brookings

3. Invest in Early Childhood Development: Reduce Deficits, Strengthen the Economy - The Heckman Equation



1. What resources are available to investigate solving affordable housing?

2. Study Finds Severe Workforce Housing Shortage Across Wisconsin, WRA 2019 Workforce Housing Report: Falling Behind

3. University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty, Kurt Paulsen, Professor , Housing, Land Use and Municipal Finance

4. Homelessness: University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty 



1. New Workforce Recruitment & Retention Options

2. Getting the Job Done - CWI

3. Workforce Challenges and Opportunities: What the Demographics Tell Us

4. BeBold 4 Workforce Recruitment and Retention Action Accelerator Overview



1. The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti

2. The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida

More than 400 elected local officials and business and community leaders registered for a virtual discussion focused on how best to invest the one-time money being provided to local units of government under the American Rescue Plan Act. Their concerns, vision, priorities and sense of urgency energized a fascinating series of discussions and exchange of ideas. The videos below were sent to participants prior to the event to help inform the discussion. Please click on the images to view the Context Advisor Videos.








More than 400 elected local officials and business and community leaders registered for a virtual discussion on June 23, 2021 focused on how best to invest the one-time money being provided to local units of government under the American Rescue Plan Act. Their concerns, vision, priorities and sense of urgency energized a fascinating series of discussions and exchange of ideas. Please find links below to the specific segments of the Summit (please click on the images to link to the video).







…competitive long-term employment opportunities and rural quality of life seen as critical pathways to talent and capital attraction

Most of the existing efforts to address rural economic problems are focused on those sectors of the rural economy facing serious challenges, including agriculture, health care, education, public services, and infrastructure. These initiatives are obviously important. They should be maintained and, in many cases, need to be expanded. They are not, however, sufficient alone to the task of constructing a healthy rural economy. Efforts to improve rural capacity and life, must also include a serious commitment to identifying and developing new ways to grow the population and the economy.

With invaluable input from the Wisconsin Counties Association; the Cooperative Network; the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association; Rural Wisconsin Hospital Cooperative; the Rural Wisconsin Partners; the Wisconsin REALTORS Association; Seneca Foods; and others, CWI is working to identify issues and approaches that would effectively and productively focus the Action Accelerator process on realistic, achievable options for achieving specified objectives.  To these ends,  CWI has identified four areas of urgent need and opportunity, including:

  • People - A resurgence of communities, economies and prospects can only happen if we can bring people back to rural areas. They won’t come if there aren’t good jobs, interesting communities and broadband.
  • Competitive operational capacity access to Broadband - Recognition of the essential importance of broadband access suggests that a new business model for rural broadband is needed - one structured around the broader value of access rather than that based on narrower provider customer head counts.
  • Employment-based opportunities -  Almost all rural areas have potential advantages that could serve as the starting point for the development of a jobs-employment driven resurgence. Success depends on linking these advantages to activities that attract investors, customers and workers.
  • Enhanced ability to quantify and monetize value - Recent research and trends suggest that its time to take a hard look at whether or not the standard assumptions being used to calculate, the value and identify potential revenue streams.

October 6, 2020

Ms. Margit Kelley
Senior Staff Attorney, Wisconsin Legislative Council
One East Main Street, Suite 401, Madison, WI 53703

Dear Ms. Kelley:

Thank you for offering Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. (CWI) an opportunity to share our extensive research, findings and thoughts with you as you pursue the Wisconsin Legislative Council’s current and timely work on the organization of the state’s workforce development system.

As you may know, CWI has examined Wisconsin’s workforce challenges from a variety of different perspectives over the past ten years, including: [PLEASE NOTE: ITEMS IN RED ARE LINKED TO REFERENCED ITEMS/ISSUES.]

  • a 2010 examination of Wisconsin’s comparative economic competitiveness undertaken with Deloitte that flagged workforce supply and skill issues;
  • a 2012 CWI-Manpower report that focused more specifically on workforce skill gaps and training needs; and
  • 2017 analyses of Wisconsin’s health care and food manufacturing clusters that revealed strategically important workforce challenges and opportunities in both major employment sectors.

We have spent the past two years examining the growing threat to Wisconsin’s economic and social wellbeing now being driven by Wisconsin’s structural workforce shortages; the adverse impacts of a tight job market on state and local tax bases and public services; and an intensified national and global competition for talent. Our findings in these areas are, we believe, relevant to the Wisconsin Legislative Council’s work on the organization of the state’s workforce development system.

We believe, for example, that Wisconsin’s contemporary workforce development efforts must take greater notice of the nature of Wisconsin’s workforce shortages and prioritize as equally important the need to address the causes as well as the symptoms.

The 2013 WDOA projections cited in the Wisconsin Policy Forum 2018 report provide an important example of the need to concentrate on the details. The chart draws attention to the size and projected size of the “working age population,” and visually offers two conclusions. First, the “actual” data indicates a leveling off of the numeric size of the workforce. Second, the “working age population projections” suggests that the WDOA believes that the reduced number of workers will be the norm for some time to come (i.e., 2020 to 2040). Combined, the two conclusions highlight the need for a workforce development strategy dedicated to increasing workforce participation rates and workplace productivity, which in turn underscores the importance of education, training, and workplace learning opportunities.

The details of the actual situation are, unfortunately, less tidy and more threatening to Wisconsin’s wellbeing. When one looks at the composition of the workforce by age, for example, it is clear that the challenge facing the state is not that the size of its workforce is leveling off, but rather that the size of its workforce is eroding structurally. More specifically, while the 20 to 34 “feeder” population has leveled off; the percentage of the workforce over 55 (i.e., potential retirees) is growing and the percentage of 35 to 54 year olds (i.e., the experienced and new management age group) is actually shrinking.

Seen in this light, the 2013 WDOA projections are more appropriately seen as population goals that have to be achieved in offer to avoid significant declines in talent availability and tax base revenues. And, since Wisconsin’s birthrates had been declining for more than 50 years, the only way to reach those goals would be to achieve much higher in-migration rates than Wisconsin had experienced for decades. Forward Analytics research on this topic did not produce encouraging news, finding instead that while there had been a slight increase in in-migration in 2017 and 2018, Wisconsin was running more than 170,000 people short of the WDOA projected growth/need for 2020.

These population and migration dynamics produced historically low unemployment rates; workforce shortages in high demand job categories that regularly exceeded 60,000 a year; and pressure on funding for public services. They also made it clear from CWI’s point of view that protecting Wisconsin’s wellbeing requires making workforce recruitment and retention at least as much a priority as workforce preparation.

The second observation CWI would make is that workforce recruitment and retention - always a competitive endeavor - is in today’s world increasingly strategic and more financially competitive. Wisconsin can only achieve its necessary workforce population goals if it can compete successfully in this more strategic and financially challenging environment.


As a part of our current BE BOLD research, CWI retained Deloitte to identify and examine a variety of workforce recruitment initiatives across the country. Deloitte’s work revealed local, regional, and state initiatives strategically targeting younger workers with financial incentives relevant to their individual situational needs and desires - primarily debt management, housing and child development and care issues. New Haven, Connecticut, for example, offers prospective residents $10,000 in downpayment assistance to buy a house and free tuition to graduates of the New Haven public school system who go to a public community college or four year school in the state. Ohio has a Grants for Grads program that, “…includes 2.5% or 5% down payment assistance. Down payment assistance is forgiven after five years as long as [grant recipients] remain in the state of Ohio.”

Wisconsin brings marketable strengths to the current recruitment competition. Unlike many states, Wisconsin has multiple residential hubs, nearly all of which have at least one major employer; a mature educational infrastructure with PreK-12 schools, universities and technical colleges; access to major transportation and distribution systems; and a marketable quality of life environment. Wisconsin also benefits from a lengthy roster of employers and a well-developed regional and local economic, community and workforce development infrastructure well versed in the needs and capabilities of these employment hubs and the areas that surround them.

Wisconsin needs to augment its existing strengths with a more competitive, effective and sustainable workforce recruitment and retention strategy. More specifically, Wisconsin needs to:

  1. encourage employers competing for high-demand workers to develop and/or expand existing recruitment initiatives focused on recruiting talent from outside Wisconsin and on retaining that talent as residential workers;
  2. enhance the ability of employers to achieve success with their recruitment and retention initiatives by making Wisconsin’s debt management, housing, child development and quality of life workforce recruitment and retention incentives significantly more attractive and competitive;
  3. encourage universities and technical colleges to strengthen and expand their efforts to recruit and retain out-of-state students pursuing high-demand careers;
  4. enhance the ability of the educational infrastructure to achieve success with their recruitment and retention efforts by making Wisconsin a significantly more attractive and competitive place for gaining the knowledge and credentials required in a high-demand career ; and
  5. identify new public revenues and new private revenues generated by the recruitment and retention that could be used in support of the recommended activities that is sustainable and does not require creating new, or increasing existing, taxes.


CWI’s research, experience, and engagement with population and workforce development challenges and opportunities over the past decade all confirm the critical relationship between the availability of talent and Wisconsin’s economic prosperity and social wellbeing. Given that correlation and the additional strains the COVID 19 pandemic is putting on the competition for workers, it is clear that Wisconsin, like many other states is at an “all hands on deck” moment, a time when it needs its employers; workers; workforce, economic and community development professionals; educators; policy-makers and elected officials working together on repopulating, building and strengthening its workforce and its middle-class.

Wisconsin’s existing workforce development infrastructure must play a role in this collaboration. In this context, it seems appropriate to suggest that the question facing the Wisconsin Legislative Council - and all the rest of us - is what might we do to enhance the ability of the workforce development infrastructure to energize, focus and support efforts dedicated to “repopulating, building and strengthening [Wisconsin’s] workforce and its middle-class”? As suggested throughout this requested response, CWI believes that an essential part of the answer to this question involves the workforce development infrastructure embracing a greater emphasis on the development of a more strategic, sustainable and effective recruitment and retention effort.

In addition, CWI acknowledges and applauds the fact that people and organizations across the state are already “on the job.” We look forward to working with them to address the needs and seize the opportunities in their region, area and community. CWI also appreciates and applauds the research and analytical contributions of organizations such as the Wisconsin Policy Institute and Forward Analytics - and would encourage those working on these issues to revisit the 2012 report, The Road Ahead: Restoring Wisconsin’s Workforce Development by Tim Sullivan, former Chairman of both the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment and the College and Workforce Readiness Council.

Thank you for including us in your important work. We would be happy to provide additional information and/or talk about these issues further.


Mark O’Connell
Executive Director, Wisconsin Counties Association
Vice-Chair, Competitive Wisconsin, Inc.

James B. Wood
Chair, Wood Communications Group
Strategic Counsel, Competitive Wisconsin, Inc.

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