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Vehicles enter Wisconsin on Interstate 90/39 near Beloit on Tuesday. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is unrolling a $1 million dollar advertising campaign to try to lure Chicago-area millennials away from the city and into the Badger State.

Anthony Wahl

JANESVILLE

Beloit resident Joe Stadelman drives 20 minutes every day to his office in Janesville.

The local architect said he knows some Chicago-area professionals face 90-minute commutes for work.

Stadelman said he can’t imagine losing several hours a day traveling to and from work. It’s not a lifestyle he’d choose.

“If my kids have a program at school, I want to go to that program, and I can,” he said. “I can’t imagine working an hour-and-a-half drive away and trying to make all the things you’d want to make for your kids.”

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is unrolling a $1 million advertising campaign to try to lure Chicago-area millennials away from the mega metropolis where they work and live—and into Wisconsin.

Stadelman, who is president of Janesville architectural firm Angus Young Associates, is not the poster child for the agency’s new ad campaign. But the campaign leans heavily on sentiments like his, and it could help firms such as Stadelman’s tap into a pipeline of young employees at a time when the Wisconsin labor market is the tightest it’s been in decades.

Over the next six months, the state’s main economic development group plans to ride social media and other advertising platforms to sell Wisconsin as a vibrant state that offers more affordable living, more leisure time and loads less commuting time than life in Chicago.

It’s the start of a multiyear push by WEDC to secure as much as $6.8 million in state funding for a “targeted, multi-agency campaign” to attract young talent.

The agency will blast its message through video ads on internet and social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as through mobile phone apps and video and music-sharing sites such as YouTube and Pandora.

The ads also will appear on 15 Chicago Transit Authority trains and stations heavily used by millennials, as well as on posters at gyms in downtown Chicago and even on drink coasters at Chicago bars and restaurants.

Tricia Braun, vice president of economic and community development at WEDC, said the ad campaign’s main focus will be a 25-mile radius around downtown Chicago—an area of 1 to 2 million working people between the ages of 20 and 40, according to U.S. Census estimates.

Chicagoland has lagged behind other U.S. cities coming out of the Great Recession, and its 0.6 percent job growth last year is less than half the U.S. average for job growth in the same period, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, the Chicago area continues to see a high rate of outward migration.

WEDC’s strategy in the campaign: Reach those young workers and woo them to Wisconsin.

“Chicago was a very obvious market for us to pick. It’s got a high millennial population. It’s close by. And it’s a not a significant move (from Chicago to Wisconsin),” Braun told The Gazette.

The ads feature videos and photos touting lush, active outdoor scenes and trendy arts and entertainment opportunities in Wisconsin. A few of them show a more laid-back and “natural” lifestyle in the Badger State, juxtaposed with the drab way that some Chicago-area workers spend their free time: commuting on a train.

“We tested some ideas, and one overwhelming idea is ‘more you.’ More time with family and more impact on things that are important for you,” Braun said.

The ad campaign, which WEDC said was developed with statewide businesses and economic development officials, lets people who open the ads on smartphones or other devices enter the agency’s updated website, inwisconsin.com.

The site has sections that highlight each of Wisconsin’s geographic regions and a portal that compiles job listings in all of the main metro areas, including Janesville-Beloit.

The site also allows people to compare housing prices and commute times for various regions and communities.

Stadelman said his Janesville architectural firm did not give WEDC feedback for its ad campaign, but he’s aware the ads will start blasting Chicagoland this week.

Stadelman believes the timing might be linked to Taiwanese company Foxconn’s development of a massive electronics manufacturing complex in rural Racine County. State officials have said the Foxconn plant eventually will require thousands of skilled workers.

Regardless, Stadelman said he believes southern Wisconsin and Rock County are natural draws for anyone living and working near the state line. The area is relatively easy to travel, and the cost of living is reasonable, he said.

He also believes Illinois’ current financial woes and business climate have helped make Wisconsin appear an enticing place for companies looking to move. He believes some of those companies’ employees might have the same feelings.

“There is just a lot of uncertainty in the Illinois climate right now,” Stadelman said. “I hear businesses who operate south of the (Illinois/Wisconsin) border considering when they’ll move north of the border. I think that kind of talk trickles down to employees as well. You’re looking at, ‘Where can I feel better about my job, and where can I feel better about living?’”

Rock County Economic Development Manager James Otterstein said the county in 2016 launched a professional talent recruitment effort via its own jobs board, jobsinrockcounty.com, thanks to a partnership with Rock 5.0 and other local stakeholders. That effort was advertised in northern Illinois, including the Chicago area.

Otterstein said about 40 percent of those who visit Rock County’s jobs portal visit it again. Overall, about a quarter of the visitors fit in the millennial demographic of ages 25 to 35. About 16 percent of all users are people from the Chicago area, he said.

Otterstein said he thinks the new ad campaign will help Wisconsin elevate its profile as a place to work and live through a “much more diverse, deeper and more capitalized (marketing) effort” than it had before.

“WEDC’s campaign is a logical extension, as well as a springboard, for Rock County’s talent recruitment efforts because it allows us to scale, expand and sustain our messaging beyond our normal reach,” he said.

Stadelman said he believes it’s equally important for state and local officials to make sure there’s enough housing in southern Wisconsin. He thinks that’s a major key to draw companies and workers across the border.

“At the point where people are deciding if they’re going to move here to work, the questions are, ‘What is my life going to be like?’” Stadelman said. “’Am I going to like where I work, but also, am I going to like where I live?’”

This story has been altered to supply the correct the year when Rock County launched its own online jobs board. The jobs board when live in 2016.

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