(Above: WEDC photo)
Phil Dedman had never even been to Eau Claire when he attended training for his job there a few years ago. A month later, he and his wife Dani, who are in their early 30s, went back to visit the area and decided they might like to move there.
There was just something about the college town of 68,000, 90 miles east of the Twin Cities at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers. It was big enough to have an arts scene, but smaller and less dense than the Twin Cities.
Coming up on a year ago now, they made the move, when Phil was able to switch job locations from the downtown headquarters of the Minneapolis tech company he works for to its Eau Claire offices.
Some of the things that drew the Dedmans to Eau Claire are similar to the themes Wisconsin’s been highlighting to lure young professionals to Wisconsin.
The above is an excerpt from a recent article at the online news site MinnPost -- Wisconsin is coming for Minnesota’s millennials -- that examines the prospects of success for Wisconsin's planned marketing campaign to attract talent to its employers in the face of record-low unemployment.
Last month, Governor Walker signed a bill allocating $6.8 million for a new Campaign to focus on attracting veterans, Wisconsin alumni and millennials to the state. According a news release from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation: The WEDC, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and the Wisconsin Department of Tourism will develop the collaborative effort aimed at addressing the state’s current and future workforce needs. The marketing campaign will focus on three specific audiences: transitioning military service members and their families; Wisconsin university alumni now living in other states; and Midwest millennials living outside Wisconsin.
Notes the MinnPost article: "most years, Minnesota gains a lot more Sconnies than Wisconsin gains Minnesotans," meaning attracting Minnesota residents to Wisconsin would require a reversal of a long-term trend.
At the same time, for those of us at the Chamber who often interact with new arrivals in the community, there seems to be increasing anecdotal evidence that Eau Claire is reaching a tipping point as an attractive combination of urban-like amenities with a comfortable, small-town feel. Some of them are UW-Eau Claire alumni who have experience with the city, but also recognized the positive changes that have accelerated over the past decade. Others are those with different connections to the area, who've decided for various reasons that Eau Claire was the place they wanted to raise their families.
One of them is Wes Escondo, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Wisconsin. He tells his story in this WEDC video:
Click here to see the video: Wisconsin Stories - Wesley Escondo
So how are things working out for the Dedman's? From the MinnPost article:
They’re able to live much more comfortably on one income in Eau Claire, Dedman said, and they were even able to trade in their house in the northern Twin Cities exurb of Dayton for a great old house near the center of town in Eau Claire.
There’s no more commuting headache, either. Most places Dedman needs to go, he can walk. And compared to when he was living in Dayton and busing to work to avoid a hellish drive, he’s spending seven minutes these days walking to or from work, compared to an hour and a half, one way, on the bus.
Finding good schools for the boys was another big factor in the couple’s decision to move — and so far, they’ve lived up to that, Dedman said. With maybe one exception.
“I guess one thing I’d love to see more here is diversity,” he said.
But while the perks made Eau Claire an easy sell, the family didn’t move for the Wisconsin aspect, Dedman said.
“We moved to Wisconsin for Eau Claire. As products of the northern [Twin Cities] suburbs, the appeal of a small big town was just overwhelming,” he said.
Click here to read the full MinnPost article.
Wisconsin's - and Eau Claire's - next steps
The WEDC news release says the coming program is expected to include "continuing collaboration with educational partners throughout the state to encourage graduates of Wisconsin’s higher educational institutions who have moved away to considering returning to the state, expanding WEDC’s existing marketing campaign to reach millennials in other Midwest cities looking for the best place to pursue their passions, using existing Department of Tourism marketing platforms to proactively promote Wisconsin as more than just a great place to visit," and other initiatives.
The Chamber has contacted the state agencies involved in the upcoming marketing campaign with an eye to monitoring progress and localizing the campaign to specifically benefit our region. Our Business & Workforce Development Committee has begun its Employers Workforce Initiative to take action in all key areas related to meeting the workforce challenges of our members, and you'll hear more in the coming days and weeks.
Certainly Eau Claire isn't perfect and won't check all of the boxes for everyone, but it seems our community has a strong set of attributes that are already attracting new residents and making it the right place for them to live and work. And some issues have already been identified as needing more work: The comment about diversity made by Phil Dedman in the MinnPost article? The Chamber has also formed a Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, chaired by Wesley Escondo, to address the issue and work to do all we can as a business community to ensure that Eau Claire is a welcoming and inclusive place.
Posted by: Scott Rogers, Governmental Affairs & Workforce Director
Eau Claire Chamber
The Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce has more than 1,200 members.