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Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce addresses economic future amid labor shortage

The Chamber hopes to keep people from leaving and attract new people with revitalization to the city
Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 4:57 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - As the country deals with labor shortages, the challenges are no different in the Greater Wausau area. Businesses are struggling to fill open positions, prompting the Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce to respond.

In a new series of YouTube videos called “Two-Minute Drill”, the Chamber examines the “why” of some of the things they’re attempting to do in the Wausau area.

“We all live in a fast-paced world,” said Chamber President and CEO Dave Eckmann. “Our goal is to get our message out in a short format that is informative for them and outlining things that the Greater Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce is doing.”

In the first video of the series, Eckmann addresses the issue of talent and labor shortages plaguing the Wausau area. Eckmann points to four reasons there is such a labor shortage in the area.

First, the population in the area is not having as many kids as they once did. Second, many workforce baby boomers are retiring, something that has potentially sped up due to the pandemic. Third, many are opting to work from home in their preferred area of the country. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there’s limited laborshed, meaning there aren’t enough people to work in the smaller metro area of Wausau.

As a result of all these things, the chamber is turning to place-making in an effort to get people to stay in the area.

“The Greater Wausau Region has to create a place that’s going to retain the kids or the people that live here now and also attract the next generation of talent to retain them here and bring them here to enjoy this community to its full extent,” said Eckmann.

Eckmann points to many younger people leaving the Wausau area for college or work and never returning. He says they end up getting sucked into an area like Milwaukee or Madison, which in reality, are Wausau’s competition for talent.

“Other companies throughout the country are going to those institutions and plucking them out and giving them a big bonus package and taking them to a vibrant community in which we’re competing against,” said Eckmann.

In an effort to get those people to stay, the concept of place-making has already been enacted. Projects like tearing down the Wausau Center Mall to create a newly revitalized downtown is a focal point. Future expansion at the popular tourist destination Granite Peak is another area of potential attractiveness. Continuing to grow the riverwalk area is also an area of emphasis.

Local business-people, like Ben Reif, President and CEO of Wausau Coated Products, know making Wausau a more attractive place to live is good for Wausau’s businesses.

“We’ve got to work hard to make this an attractive place to move to, to come back to, to stay in,” said Reif. “If we’re successful in doing that, we’re going to continue to grow as a community and those businesses are going to make that happen.”

Reif understands the importance of bringing in new people as well, as he’s dealt with labor shortages even before the pandemic.

“Our business is successful,” said Reif. “It’s growing. In order to serve our customers, we’ve got to add to our team, so when you can’t do that, it’s extremely frustrating.”

As the chamber enacts its plans, Eckmann said it’s urgently important to connect with the young people of Wausau at an early age to get them to appreciate the area they’re growing up in.

“We need to make sure we are engaging those young people, at an early age, and getting them tied to our economy,” said Eckmann.

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