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Katie and Will Springer of Janesville, and their sons Ford, 5, and Wells, 1, are featured in a new video by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, as part of an effort to attract young people to Wisconsin to address a worker shortage. The Springers, both originally from Wisconsin, moved from Chicago to Janesville in 2012.

Twig & Olive Photography

JANESVILLE

The state’s largest business association chose a Janesville couple for a new video designed to persuade more young people to return to Wisconsin and bolster the workforce.

The video shows Will and Katie Springer, two young professionals, talking about how they left Chicago when their first child was born, after Will got a job at a Janesville law firm.

The video emphasizes the short commutes to work, safety and opportunities to be part of a community, all things they didn’t find in Chicago.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce hopes the message resonates with young people, especially those who left Wisconsin to live in the Chicago area.

Wisconsin is facing a “demographic crisis,” said Kurt Bauer, WMC’s president and CEO, who wants state lawmakers to spend more money on similar efforts.

“If you want your economy to grow, you need more people,” Bauer said.

Bauer put out the word to local affiliates, looking for examples of people who have chosen Wisconsin after choosing Chicago.

John Beckord of Forward Janesville passed it on to members, which is how WMC found the Springers.

Will is from Iowa County in southwest Wisconsin, Katie from Fond du Lac. They both went to college in Wisconsin.

They met and started their family in Chicago, where Will got his law degree and Katie got her master’s degree in psychology.

Will was working for a Chicago law firm and realized that his late hours and long mass-transit commute would mean he would often miss the opportunity to put his first son to bed, he said.

They moved to Janesville in 2012. Now both 33, they were able to afford a house they could never have bought in Chicago, Will said. Both parents work full time.

Will was able to drop off his son at Janesville Community Daycare and still get to work at the Brennan Steil law firm downtown in 10 minutes, he said.

“Anywhere in Janesville, whether you’re grocery shopping or going to any sort of event, it takes 15 minutes max,” Will said.

Katie took jobs in the social service field. She’s now with Rock County in adult protective services.

Their oldest son is now in kindergarten at St. John Vianney School, while their 1-year-old goes to day care in Milton, so Will has a longer commute, but he enjoys the time to think and listen to the radio, he said.

Will still works hours dictated by the needs of his clients, but he can work into the evening and still get home in time to tuck his sons into bed.

“That’s kind of the balance we were looking for,” Will said.

“I can walk down the street with my wife and two boys and feel safe,” he says in the video.

Will likes how the city has blossomed in recent years. He enjoys two new additions, microbrewery Rock County Brewing Company and Lark restaurant. And he likes the downtown redevelopment project known as ARISE.

“I think it’s a really good thing and one of reasons why we’re staying here and we want to be a part of that,” he said of ARISE.

And while the restaurant selection and shopping are nothing like in Chicago, access to bigger cities via the Interstate highways is a plus, he said.

And they’re both much closer to their families.

Will likes being able to get involved in the community and meet new people through his work with Janesville Youth Hockey, where he coaches and is vice president of the board.

WMC’s Bauer, a Beloit native, said when his organization started thinking about the demographic problem, members focused on the need for skilled trades workers, such as welders, electricians and millwrights.

Then they realized the need will be much greater.

UW-Madison Applied Population Laboratory did a study showing the working-age population will grow by only 0.1 percent from 2010 to 2040.

“You can see by that jarring statistic that we need people, period,” Bauer said. “We need bus drivers. We need teachers, people to work in office buildings, you name it.”

Bauer said a lack of workers could lead to a demography-driven recession like the one that hit former economic powerhouse Japan.

But the need is not somewhere in the future, according to WMC. The association surveys its members each year, asking if they have trouble hiring workers.

In 2015, 64 percent of the members—from across the business sector, from manufacturing to services—said they had that problem. By June of this year, the percentage was 77. And a new survey to be released in January will show 80 percent can’t find workers they need.

Last year, WMC produced a video focusing on Milwaukee as a great place for millennials to start careers or businesses, Bauer said

This time, they wanted to appeal specifically to former Wisconsinites who have left the state for the Chicago area, trying to capitalize on the population losses Illinois is suffering, Bauer said.

“Wisconsin is already getting its fair share of refugees from Illinois,” Bauer said.

The point of the new video was to show a young couple finding a great place to raise a family, “and Wisconsin, I think, has that in spades,” Bauer said.

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