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Wisconsin is coming for Minnesota’s millennials

Courtesy of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation
In Chicago, the economic development corporation found that some of millennials’ biggest pain points were the cost of living and Chicagoland commute times.

Hey Midwestern millennials, Wisconsin wants you. To move to Wisconsin.

Last month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill approving $6.8 million for efforts to attract workers, including an ad campaign that will highlight the perks of Wisconsin life in the hopes of attracting millennials from other Midwestern states.

The Badger State’s hoping to keep its economy chugging along by recruiting young people to settle there, as it faces low unemployment and an aging workforce.

Wisconsin and Minnesota are in pretty much the same boat that way. And that boat is headed into choppy waters. Both states have populations that aren’t growing particularly quickly.

But Wisconsin might be worse off. Its median age is 39.1, compared to Minnesota’s 37.8, and its unemployment rate is even lower than Minnesota’s.

Most years, Minnesota gains a lot more Sconnies than Wisconsin gains Minnesotans.

Putting a dent in that might be a tall order.

Moving to Minnesota

In 2016, the most recent year of data available on state-to-state migration from the Internal Revenue Service, 7,360 households left Wisconsin for Minnesota. Just 6,318 left Minnesota for Wisconsin, leaving Minnesota with a net gain of more than 1,000 households from the Badger State.

That’s pretty much par for the course.

Net migration from Wisconsin to Minnesota, 2001-2016
Source: Internal Revenue Service

The exception was in the early 2000s, when the Twin Cities were rapidly suburbanizing. At that time, there was a lot of migration from the Twin Cities into western Wisconsin counties like Polk and Pierce, said David Egan-Robertson, a demographer at the University of Wisconsin Applied Population Laboratory.

But for the most part, the trend’s gone the other way.

Wisconsin lacks a major metro area quite like the Twin Cities or Chicago, both easily accessible from Wisconsin. Milwaukee, the state's biggest metropolis, has a population of about 1.6 million, compared to 3.6 million in the Twin Cities and 9.5 million in Chicago. Madison, Wisconsin’s second largest metro, has about 650,000 residents.

In recent years overall, Wisconsin has lost more population through migration than it’s gained, unlike Minnesota.

Many young people who grow up in Wisconsin move to the Twin Cities or Chicago for job opportunities, or just to try life in a bigger city. “That’s a long-term pattern of young people wanting to move to a larger place, at least for a while,” Egan-Robertson said.

Though Milwaukee County has seen net in-migration of 25-to-34-year-olds, in a metro about half the size of the Twin Cities, “There just isn’t, in Milwaukee, the same level of job generation,” Egan-Robertson said.

A report out last week from the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think-tank, highlighted that Wisconsin has lagged behind Minnesota in job growth, wage growth and income since 2010, among other things.

There are definitely jobs in Wisconsin that are open, though: Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 2.9 percent in March, the most recent month of data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Minnesota’s was 3.2.

The ad campaign

Having so few workers available puts a crunch on employers, who are struggling to find enough people to fill jobs. That’s the message the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has been hearing the last few years from companies in the state, said Mark Maley, the organization’s public affairs and communications director.

“Like a lot of state economic development organizations, [Wisconsin’s] is best-known for providing incentives to companies to get them to come to Wisconsin and create jobs,” Maley said. “That’s still a big part of what we do, but I would say about a year and a half, two years ago, we started hearing more from companies concerned about workforce development: ‘If we build a new plant and we want to hire 200 people, will we be able to find 200 people?’”

It’s not just companies like Foxconn, the multinational electronics manufacturing company that's building a factory boosters say will bring 13,000 jobs to Racine County, that have this concern, but smaller companies, too, Maley said.

The economic development corporation got to work trying to figure out what it could do to help attract workers, including conducting a national study to discern people’s perceptions of Wisconsin.

“Pretty much every demographic, or every region of the state, the answer was the same: beer, cheese and the Packers,” Maley said. (Never change, Wisconsin.)

“We’ll own it. We love all those things,” he added. But there are other things about Wisconsin that people don’t seem to know, like that UW-Madison is a top research institution. Or that it’s a leader in water technology, or that it has a sizable biohealth sector.

Courtesy of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation
The Chicago campaign strongly emphasized cheaper housing in Wisconsin.

“If we want people to think about locating to Wisconsin, we need to start by changing the perception of the state,” Maley said.

A first, $1 million campaign to do that launched in Chicago in January. In Chicago, the economic development corporation found that some of millennials’ biggest pain points were the cost of living and Chicagoland commute times (33 minutes, on average, compared to 19 in Madison and 21 in Milwaukee. For what it’s worth, Minneapolis’ is 21 minutes). So, ads on popular social media sites, on coasters at downtown bars, in health clubs and on public transportation, emphasize things like short commutes, affordability and the outdoors.

“The whole idea of the ad campaign is to change the perception, but also to really drive them to the website [, also part of the campaign],” Maley said. The website includes information about quality of life, health care, education, jobs, homes and other metrics that might help lure future cheeseheads. So far, Maley said, they’re meeting website traffic goals.

At a summit in November announcing the push for the marketing campaign, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker suggested millennials in the Twin Cities and Detroit could be the audience for  the next campaign, but Maley said more market research needs to be done before the state picks its targets.

Minnesota, in some ways, is a natural fit: both the Twin Cities and Duluth are near the border and there’s already a lot of cross-migration. Maley expects the focus to be decided in the fall.

But the Twin Cities, in some ways, resemble, say, Milwaukee. So any ad campaign targeting Minneapolis-St. Paul would likely take a different tone than the Chicago one, Maley said.

Part of the $6.8 million Wisconsin legislative appropriation to attract workers will also be spent on a campaign to lure military veterans who are about to transition back into civilian life, and another effort, which kicks off in June, to reach graduates of Wisconsin colleges and universities who have moved away.

The idea, Maley said, is “Look, you went to UW-Madison for four years, you moved to San Francisco … we have good opportunities in Wisconsin, would you think about coming back?”

A small big town

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.

For one thing, it’s much more affordable for them. With Dani caring for the couple’s sons, ages 6 and 3, the Dedmans had been a single-income family for awhile in the Twin Cities before they made the move to Wisconsin. It was tough to make it work.

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.

“We just bought a house, built in 1881, and literally it’s the best house I’ve ever owned. It’s a Colonial-Victorian hybrid, and we’re next door to a fantastic, historically-registered Victorian,” Dedman said.

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.

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Comments (44)

Good luck with that...

Millennials aren't big on Republican "values" or the living environment they tend to produce.


"Paul Ryan is from here and look what he's done to the country! Now imagine what he can do to the state!" is not exactly something that a young person wants to hear.

Turd polish

Walker has decimated the schools, public transportation and healthcare and is now trying to keep/recruit millenials with a P.R. campaign? How about actually spending that money on the things that have been neglected. How about accepting Medicaid expansion.

millennials are smarter than that

An ad campaign is not going to convince most of them to move to a state that is demolishing the working/middle class.

Demolishing who?

State and local government workers and their lavish pay, benefits and pension that were way above the private market maybe.Rest are better off and have way more opportunity.


Cutting public salaries and benefits drives down private as well. And those schoolteacher salaries weren’t very lavish to begin with.

No secret why millenials aren’t interested.

"Cutting public salaries and

"Cutting public salaries and benefits drives down private as well."

Love to see where you saw that liece of fiction.

And where did you read millenials don't want to come to WI? Story says they are being courted; nothing about the reaction. BTW, Minnesota is losing people young and old at an increasing pace; that's why it's going to lose a seat in the House of Reps.


MN is growing faster than it's neighbors. We're not losing population, other states are growing faster than us. You know, the ones that are a net drain on the Federal Treasury.

Lavish pay and benefits...


Urban Myth

It is an urban myth the public employees are compensated at higher rates than the private sector. That is true on aggregate, but when compared by profession, it's not true.

Public employees are better trained than private sector employees, public employees being more likely to have four year degrees. Benefits for public employees tend to be higher, but overall the compensation packages are somewhat lower.

Lavish pay? A good talking point, but it's not true.

I'm far removed

…from being a millennial, though I was born in the previous one, but I have several relatives who live in Wisconsin. WIth any sort of luck at all, a millennial family thinking of moving to Wisconsin will pay at least minimal attention to the news. If that young family is of the Trumpist persuasion, they may, indeed, like the state. It's certainly physically attractive enough in that upper-Midwestern-y sort of way, and half the state, including Madison, is south of the Twin Cities, so it tends to be warmer. In winter, that's often a good thing. In summer, not so much.

Be that as it may, if the young millennial family is in the center of the political spectrum, or anywhere to the left of it, they'll be disappointed by living there. The lunatic right wing has taken over state government, with slashed public services, reduced funding for public education, and numerous other signs that the ideology of selfishness has an undue influence in state government. They'd be better off here.

In the example cited, it

In the example cited, it sounds like someone found the benefit of moving from a Twin Cities exurb to a walkable urban neighborhood close to work... Not the benefit of moving from Minnesota to Wisconsin.

Nailed it

Exactly. They could’ve had the same experience in St. Cloud, Rochester, Duluth if they want to live in a smaller community.

Not the Wisconsin I grew up in

Since Walker was elected not only unions, schools, the university system were attacked and reduced; the environment and state park system are under attack because of the deregulation that has permeated the state. It seems like the state is not necessarily open for business but to the highest bidder!

A wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Bros.

I too grew up in Wisconsin. I've been in MN for the past 30 years. I've thought of moving back for family reasons but quickly disabused myself of that notion - so many things are going downhill.

How interesting that this

How interesting that this article touting Wisconsin (it's practically an advertisement) doesn't mention the current political climate in that state, and how millenials might regard living in Scott Walker's world.

Wisconsin is a beautiful state, but it has changed into something pretty chintzsy, compared to a vibrant and much more diverse Minnesota, which hasn't gone the Tea Party route so completely yet.

Compare MN-WI

My son lived for 4 years in Green Bay and met his fiance there. They both now live in Mpls and love it. She is a grade school teacher and is reveling in her $10,000 increase in salary and the more robust school funding (maybe not still enough, but so much better than WI). Under Walker, the state has under funded schools, the University system, social services and human capital. Their Supreme Court is politically extreme. Millenials will not be attracted to Wisconsin versus Minnesota.

Wisconsin is a joke “because”

Wisconsin is a joke “because” of Scott Walker.

For all you 50 - 60 year old

For all you 50 - 60 year old leftists opining on who millennial's are, and what they like and don't like;

I'll just leave this here....


Only off by 20 years or so, I think I know 2, maybe 3 conservatives, and they're far from Trump supporting. If you think there's some vast millennial pool, in rural conservative areas of the Midwest, eagerly awaiting the chance to uproot to Wisconsin, I would posit you've never been there. The ones capable of leaving have already left, the ones left behind aren't gonna find any better conditions in Wisconsin, or anywhere else for that matter. Their situation is self created.

I didn't make an opinion, I

I didn't make an opinion, I posted an article from the LA Times about a large study that finds Millennials are skewing right. The article didn't suggest that was confined to rural areas, it's nationwide.

I will suggest, based on the article, if you are a millennial who has only 2 or 3 conservative friends, you're a pretty isolated fellow unless you only have 6 friends total.

Anecdotally, I have 3 millennial sons, and all 3 are quite conservative.


One study done by a San Diego State researcher = Gospel. About a million studies done that prove climate change is real - "Meh...the jury is still out."
Gotta love modern conservatives these days...

This was of course pre-2016

It's pretty obvious what millennials think of the Trump regime. And, all labels aside, if you look at what matters to millennials, it's not what matters to the current GOP. Things like gun control, the environment, global warming, women being able to control their own bodies, net neutrality . . .

Once again, deciding they

Once again, deciding they know what millennial's think proves to be a bit dicey for leftist least as far as 2nd Amendment issues are concerned.

They also might be the tipping point for banning abortion.

It's a well established trend: people get more conservative as they mature. If the evidence I've seen suggesting millennials started more conservative are correct, the left is in for some rough times ahead.

Keep on hoping

Your paradigm might apply in times when increased age leads to increased wealth (the true impetus to conservatism), but in our era of conservative wage stagnation and wealth inequality I think you might find your "study" a bit rose-tinted. I'm sure Hoover conservatives felt they were in for a lifetime of control too, right up until the Depression their economics created minted 4 decades of liberals.

Actually the "paradigm" never applies...

Wealth mobility in the US has been lowest among our peers for decades. The greatest predictor of wealth is whether or not a person is born into a wealthy family.

Fake News?

I see the LA Times is a trusted resource when a two year-old article can be read as supporting one's conclusion.

In 2016, some 2 million voters under 30 chose Bernie Sanders. That is more than the combined totals for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump:

Of course, that's the Washington Post, so it's probably fake news. Death to Amazon!

The article is likely irrelevant in the wake of the past year

The study referenced in the L.A. Times article was published in September, 2016. A lot had changed since then and Republican control of the House, Senate and Presidency has shined a brighter light on the party’s agenda. I don’t think a current survey would produce the same results.


Good grief, I grew up there, virtually all of my extended family lives there,
and I hate to break it to you Scooter, I wouldn't go back if they were literally writing out checks to move. MAYBE if the SE limousine conservative set decided to split off into a new state, but probably not even then. I hate to say it, but Wississippi is their new reality, good luck to those unfortunately stuck in it.

Same here.

Went to college there, parents and extended family still live there as well. I've had a plethora of cousins, nephews and nieces graduate in the past ten years, and not one of them stayed in Wisconsin. Most moved to Minnesota.
I get back every couple of months to check on my folks and I can't get out of that state fast enough.

What Wisconsin offers

I understand UW Madison is a fun school to attend - but Madison’s liberal ways are hard to Walker and his chonies to stomach. Bad mouth the best place in the state for millennial and then expect them to come.

Walker is everything that most young people detest. If you want an educated workforce you don’t use a front man who dropped out of college one term short of graduation to be a politician. College grads worked hard to graduate and have the debts to show for it.

Right to work states pay lower wages, depriving young people of the ability to quickly pay off student loans and start adult life - getting married, having kids, getting a good enough income for afford a house. Minnesota has moderate living costs and has more opportunity. Wisconsin is much more of a blue collar state that gives out huge incentives to profitable businesses, but does nothing much special for its workers, and if you work for government, expect to be abused and scapegoated.

Walker believes in taking the prosperity that great workers create to fund the wealthy, while cutting services that create opportunity for all. Why would they expect that strategy to work? First rule when you are young. Never intentionally work for a bad boss that does nothing to help you.

statewide drinking problem

The perennial report of the hardest drinking cities in America came out today, and for another year, 7 of the top 10 and 12 of the top 20 are in Wisconsin. Minnesotans joke about it and Wisconsinites like to wear this as a badge of pride but the excess drinking in the state causes a lot of problems. The "Beer, Cheese and Badgers " slogan sounds cute to WI residents and maybe some MN sympathizers, but it is a turn off to everyone else.

Oil Bust Workers

I actually think that WI could do pretty well attempting to recruit disaffected oil-field workers in ND to move there.

Oil is such a boom-bust endeavor - especially in places like ND where the costs of extraction have always made its fields very vulnerable to global commodity cycles - that the one sure outcome is lots of unemployed and/or disaffected workers and their families in the area at various points in the future.

The WI economy seems to be pivoting (I use this word most graciously here) toward extraction-based enterprises along with value-added agricultural operations, for which oil-field workers might be a reasonably decent employment fit.

On the other hand, there /are/ plenty of Minnesotans who may be receptive to this message too. I agree with the general outline of commentary above that a Minneapolis to Wisconsin move is a difficult sell, but the further you get from the city cores the less of a difficult sell it becomes (in my opinion, of course). There are lots of people here that vote for lower taxes and reduced services, and there are many, many people who vote for less regulation and less government. I'm not making a value-statement here, or commenting on how good or bad these viewpoints are; but what I am saying is that just because people who choose to live in Minneapolis aren't interested in moving to WI, this viewpoint isn't true of all Minnesotans. And honestly, if some people feel like WI is a better fit for them, and want to move there - then that's just fine by me.

This is also true of Millenials. It's not a generation of hip city-lovers, most millenials don't live in city cores, they live in suburbs. While it may be the most educated generation, plenty of them are not highly educated and, well, I don't even need to talk about how shitty the job-market is - I can't blame people for trying a different scene for a while, and I certainly can't blame WI for trying. Advertising is much easier than building everything they threw away, and then some; they took the expedient path to get where they are, and they'll continue with the 'easiest' solutions to their problems..

We'll see. In the end I suspect that the current trajectory will continue and the states will continue to diverge by most measures, even if MN does get it's own republican revolution it's unclear that it would follow the same course as WI, as the population centers here are more concentrated and much further entrenched than post-Fordist Milwaukee, or half-million strong Madison. And MN isn't stuck with the terrible brain-drain that WI had to begin with.. Some people will move away, and some will move back. No news there really..


You mean like violating the Great Lakes Compact so that Foxconn can draw down Lake Michigan? That boondoggle for which which WI taxpayers will be paying the bill for the next 50 years? "Value-added" agricultural operations - is that a euphemism for factory farms and dairies which are able to squeeze by any sort of ecological or groundwater rules courtesy of Scotty?

WI's Economy

Yes, these are the types of enterprises that WI is "pivoting" toward (/why/ is a completely different discussion because it is definitely befuddling, if nothing else - which, if you read between the lines, I was certainly alluding to in my OP).

Foxconn is not really extraction/carbon economy, no. It's bulk commodity manufacturing which is technically up the foodchain from raw commodity processing and export (note that the word "commodity" doesn't actually mean the same thing between these two enterprises, the lexicon is unhelpful in this particular instance), but realistically it's unlikely to be more desirable. And the costs will extend well beyond 50 years, surely.

And yes, the low-quality value-added ag enterprises likely fall into those general types of categories. Unlike a General Mills which turns $0.12 of cereal grains into a $1.50 granola bar and employs legions of PhD food scientists to figure out what kind of sugar to add to it and with what sorts of plastics to package it. GM might have its own social shortcomings, but few would argue that it's more desirable to have a bunch of chicken-slaughtering mega plants that perpetually injure and throw away a vast and disposable labor force of economically desperate individuals. Although it's not like MN has never had such enterprises..

Hope this helps,.

PS, nothing I've written should be construed to defend WI's decisions - it's a state that I would never choose to live, as near as I can tell..

Suburban Millenials?

"This is also true of Millenials. It's not a generation of hip city-lovers, most millenials don't live in city cores, they live in suburbs."

I don't know who your talking about but it isn't Millenials. One of the most prominent features of the Millenial demographic is the desire to live in higher density urban, walkable, transit available, Uber driven neighborhoods. Millenials are all about cycling, walking, transiting, and ubering around... you can't do that in suburbs for the most part.


"I don't know who your talking about but it isn't Millenials. One of the most prominent features of the Millenial demographic is the desire to live in higher density urban, walkable, transit available, Uber driven neighborhoods. Millenials are all about cycling, walking, transiting, and ubering around... you can't do that in suburbs for the most part."

Yes, but you're playing word games. I don't disagree that this is "one of the most prominent features" of the millenial demographic, verses prior generations of the same age. But this doesn't mean that /most/ millenials live in a city. Most of the millenials I interact with do live in a city, because I live in Minneapolis. When I am in the suburbs (more often than I'd care to, I'll admit), most of the millenials I interact with there, live in suburbs.

Most Americans do not live in a city, and neither do most millenials. (although they may live in a metropolitan statistical area, which is different).

Read this, for example:

If nothing else, I suspect that the Millenial generation may be the most understood generation currently. Although this may just be because the "Homelanders" (Strauss' tentative name for them) hasn't even entered the public discussion yet. As a complete aside, I've always advocated that the generation following the Millenials be called not the Homelanders, but rather "Generation F", you can guess what "F" stands for - but that's neither here nor there..

Hope this helps..

Demographics aren't word games

It's not about "where" they live, it's about the features they look for. Yes, I live in St. Louis Park... most of the black people I live with live in SLP... that doesn't mean a majority of black people live in SLP or prefer to live in the "suburbs". The point here is, the features millenials are looking for aren't those they will find in Wisconsin. Twin Cities suburbs are NOT little Wisconsin's.


Ever hear that joke about the two economists? - So two economists are standing on the corner and a Porsche drives by. The first economist says to the second economist: "boy, I sure do want one of those." "No, you don't" replied the second.

I could make the same argument for all of the non-urban living people who claim to really want to live in a city, or have more access to hiking, biking, mixed drinks, or hip this-or-that that supposedly characterizes the generation. But I don't even need to. My original point was that WI is trying to recruit /some/ millenials, and that they will get /some/ - I don't think it's that radical a prediction.

Keep in mind

that the republicans want to make Minnesota more like Wisconsin.

Madison, WI

As a resident of downtown Madison, I can say that Madison would actually meet what is only a Walker fantasy in much of the State.

Oddly enough, we are disliked by Walker and crew.

Really, an ad campaign?

I regularly go to Milwaukee to visit the last and dying family members that still live in Wisconsin. It's a beautiful city, but I can't imagine building a life there. Schools are terrible, hypersegregation is epic, and prospects and leaders are equally dim. On a positive note, the city of Milwaukee is so poor, they haven't torn down the beautiful old buildings so it has this great decaying Midwestern vibe to it.

As Tony Hendra Once Wrote

"And reflect that whatever fortune may be your lot,
It could only be worse in Milwaukee."

Isn't that odd?

So cutting taxes and regulations doesn't actually attract people, huh? Very odd since we've been assured so often that it does. Perhaps it's just one of those things that we have to wait a little longer to see - like positive benefits to the working class from trickle-down economics.