How Does Superior Measure Up?
A business association was founded in 1911 with the express purpose of making Wisconsin the most competitive state in the nation. This organization, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC*) exists to this day and is the motivating force behind the Future Wisconsin Project (FWP).
The Future Wisconsin Project
The goal of the FWP project is to be forward-thinking, and to ask how we can grow our economy and to identify what resources are required to make Wisconsin competitive on the national and global stage.
In order to accomplish this, FWP asks its members the following questions:
- What will Wisconsin look like in 20 years?
- What will our workforce look like?
- What sort of businesses will thrive in our economy?
- How will our tech colleges and universities stack up to those in other states?
- What sort of jobs will be available?
- Will we be able to grow our economy if we can’t find the labor to fill the jobs?
These are questions that are front and center in the debate about what direction Superior will take in the future. The Better City Superior project has captured the imagination of our elected and business leaders, and garnered the support of over 75% of the electorate in a recent advisory referendum.
As we move forward towards this goal of attracting both businesses and the millennial workerforce to Superior, we must do some self-analysis in order to be well prepared for the future.
The FWP questions are excellent barometers of how Superior measures up in relation to our neighboring communities, and indeed on a national basis in attracting new businesses and jobs to town. We can control our own destiny by creating public/private partnerships that bring education and business together for the common good.
Growing Superior is not only dependent on bringing new jobs to our city, but also on our ability to keep and attract qualified and educated young people to staff those businesses.
Causes of Unemployment
There are three recognized types of unemployment, cyclical, frictional, and structural. While there are subsets within each type of unemployment, these are the three broad definitions most often used.
Cyclical unemployment is related to the normal ups and down of the economy, such as short-term downturns or recessions. While the current cycle has lasted almost a decade in some parts of the country, we are currently emerging from a recessionary cycle that began in 2008.
Frictional unemployment is the period of time between a job becoming available and the time it takes to recruit, interview, and train a new employee. This is the sort of unemployment that a recent college grad may experience while seeking their first job after graduation.
The third type of unemployment is the most challenging one for employers and employees alike. Structural unemployment happens when there is a mismatch between the job openings that employers have and the skills that the available work force has to offer.
Unemployment in Superior
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate in January of this year was at a 17 year low of 3.7%, ranking our state as 13th best in the nation. At the same time, the unemployment rate in Superior was 4.1% and was 3.7% in Duluth.
Jim Paine, our new mayor, adds that he believes Superior has a functional unemployment rate of 0% since many of the unemployed are simply unable to work due to health or disability, legal reasons (felony convictions), or may be tied to non-paying work such as being a stay-at-home parent, or as the caretaker of an elderly parent.
In any case, it is apparent that low unemployment rates coupled with a mismatch of worker skills versus employer needs will be a challenge that Superior will need to address in coming years. No amount of new jobs coming to town will succeed over the long-term unless our community can provide new employers capable and skilled employees.
Mayor Paine shared the following sentiment with ES:
“I am encouraged by the manufacturers in our area that have recognized these challenges and are working to become more competitive in the labor market. I will also be working with our School District, University, and WITC to encourage more and more direct job placement and cooperation between education and employers but obviously the private sector will have to take the lead.”
(The above video was developed in partnership with the WMC’s Future Wisconsin Project, The Wisconsin University and Technical College systems, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp, and the Dept. of Workforce Development.)
High Quality of Life Expectation the New Normal
While creating a business-friendly environment, we must encourage development of a vibrant lifestyle that excites recent college and tech school graduates to settle here. Talent is the new global currency, and people are no longer willing to move just for a job…you must entice them.
Gone are the days of building a manufacturing plant in the middle of nowhere and expecting employees to flock to the available jobs. Young people look for lifestyle, restaurants, parks, social activity, and entertainment when considering where to live and work.
For Superior to truly turn around, it will be necessary for our city to do more than just create jobs. Unless we are content being a bedroom community to our larger neighbor across the bay, we must strive to build a better downtown with more entertainment, dining, and social opportunities.
Superior needs to become focused on making our community more attractive to youth and growing families. Business growth all by itself will not work if Superior cannot provide a skilled workforce to fill the jobs.
We need an active arts community (see our post about Twin Ports Stage), bustling restaurants and entertainment venues, interesting shops and boutiques, and all of the usual professional services that are expected to be found in successful downtowns across America.
With the creation of a new and revitalized downtown, Superior will take the next step towards providing the quality of life that the millennial generation is seeking, thereby making our community more attractive to employers since they will feel confident in their ability to fill the jobs they have to offer.
The Times They Are a Changin’
With a generational change in the mayor’s office, and the prospect of a shift in focus in local civic organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Development Association, and the Superior Business Improvement District, Superior may be well poised going forward to address the concerns of millennial workers.
Mayor Paine adds, “we want Superior to offer such a unique and satisfying lifestyle that people will choose Superior first and their job second…Better City Superior is a major step in that direction.”
In coming days, ES will explore how opportunity is created in Superior by focusing on the above organizations. We will also describe how Superior is prepared to assist new entrepreneurs in starting a business here.
Should Governor Walker’s administration see fit to include the Better City Superior legislation in the next state budget, Superior is set to embark on a new voyage that will shape our destiny for generations to come.
*The WMC is a joint concern of the state chamber of commerce, the state manufacturers’ association, and the state safety council. There are approximately 3800 members in the WMC, including both large and small manufacturers, service companies, local chambers of commerce, and specialized trade associations.