Worker Shortage Has Wisconsin Manufacturers’ Poach from Illinois

by Elyse Kelly


A dearth of workers in the manufacturing industry is pitting state against state as Wisconsin area manufacturers look to entice Illinois workers away.

The shortage has led Wisconsin manufacturers like InSinkErator and Andis to team up in an attempt to lure Chicago area workers to relocate, The Journal Times in Wisconsin reported.

“Over the last decade, we’ve not grown as fast as our neighboring states,” Mark Denzler, president of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, told The Center Square, in reference to Illinois’ jobs climate. “Actually all of the neighboring states have added more manufacturing jobs than Illinois has, and part of that’s due to policies, state policies that we could do better on.”

Through an initiative called the Digital Manufacturing Campaign, the Racine County Economic Development Corp. and the Wisconn Valley Media Group are hoping to draw Chicago and surrounding area workers to their state with job opportunities and a lower cost of living.

So far, they’ve reported a lot of engagement, the Journal Times reported.

Since the pandemic, the manufacturing industry has been struggling to fill jobs. Before COVID-19, the industry had 437,000 open jobs whereas today there are roughly 850,000 unfilled positions, according to Denzler.

“I was with a manufacturer in Bloomington … that said they would’ve added 100 jobs in the last year if they could’ve found workers,” he said.

Denzler called Wisconsin’s initiative a small effort and said it hasn’t seen much success so far. He maintains Illinois has room for improvement.

“Some of the things that create issues for manufacturers are the long term [public employee] pension debt and what that means for their bills,” Denzler said. “We have higher than average costs for property taxes and for workers’ compensation.”

There’s no reason Illinois shouldn’t be the national leader, he said, but manufacturers want stability and some of Illinois’ policies don’t help.

While both Illinois and Wisconsin are dealing with workforce challenges, Denzler says Illinois’ manufacturing attributes are tough to beat.

“We have a central location, we have a global city, we have a global airport, we have a skilled workforce, we have great colleges and universities, have access to water, we have low cost energy, we have two national laboratories, we have great infrastructure including the Mississippi River – the Port of Chicago is the fifth busiest port in the United States,” he said.

Illinois is also the only state to have all seven class one railroads, Denzler pointed out, making distribution easier.

In addition to Illinois’ industry specific assets, Denzler has great faith in the Land of Lincoln’s museums, entertainment, sports teams and parks to help the state withstand Wisconsin’s attempt to draw workers away.

“What I would say is I would put Illinois ahead of Wisconsin when it comes to quality of life and culture,” he said. “Certainly in the Chicagoland area where they’re trying to recruit from, quite frankly Racine, Wisconsin. doesn’t compare to Chicago.”

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Elyse Kelly is a contributor to The Center Square.


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