08 Sep Athletics, pop culture and the arts
MADISON – The bread and butter of Wisconsin’s economic growth will be getting the big things right: Finding enough investment capital to transfer our best technology to the marketplace, controlling taxes and regulation, maintaining a strong education system, and ensuring there’s a 21st century infrastructure in place to support all businesses.
But there’s a human side to the equation, too, that may prove as vital to Wisconsin’s future as venture capital, less red tape, great schools and reliable energy and transportation. People must want to live here. The quality of life must be vibrant enough to attract what one observer has dubbed “The Creative Class,” citizens who will anchor the work force of tomorrow.
Three recent events – in Appleton, Milwaukee and Madison – illustrate that Wisconsin has what it takes to retain a young, motivated work force. Statewide “brain drain” statistics certainly don’t show it yet, but Wisconsin can lure and keep creative people.
Event One: The Fox Cities Summit on the Arts.
In his 2002 book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” Professor Richard Florida of Carnegie-Mellon University wrote that the presence of arts and cultural opportunities in a community are part of what makes it attractive to a more educated workforce. John Naisbitt, author of “Megatrends 2000,” has written that “a vibrant arts community is critical when corporations decide where to locate and when people decide where to work.”
Business, education and other community leaders in the Fox Cities region understand the connection. Nearly 200 of those leaders gathered in late August for a day to talk about using arts to strengthen a community’s economy and its sense of place for residents and visitors alike. In the Fox Cities, the arts account for 361 full-time jobs, $8.8 million in salaries and 44,000 hours of volunteer time. The opening of a performing arts center in Appleton has accelerated interest in the arts – and become a recruiting tool for major companies.
“When we compete for employees today, the overall culture attractiveness of our region is a very important factor,” said Kathi Seifert, executive vice president of Kimberly Clark and one of the Appleton conference participants.
Event Two: The 100th anniversary Harley-Davidson celebration
A century after the company’s first motorcycle hit the road, a horde of enthusiasts estimated at several hundred thousand descended on southeast Wisconsin to mark the occasion with rumbling appreciation. The makeup of the crowd showed you can file away your stereotypes about motorcyclists with your “Easy Rider” video. Many of the people who cruised into Milwaukee were computer programmers, chemists, business executives, marketing experts and others whose resumes might defy the biker image.
The late August fest was an opportunity for Milwaukee to put its best foot on the pedal – and, by most accounts, it sped ahead in the race for public perception. “OnMilwaukee.com” asked its readers the following question: “Is Milwaukee a better town now than it was for Harley’s 95th anniversary celebration?” Four-fifths of the respondents said “yes.”
Event Three: The Ironman Wisconsin Triathlon
For the second year in a row, about 1,800 people came to Madison with the intent of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles – all in one day. The already grueling triathlon was made even more brutal by temperatures that neared 90 degrees Sept. 7, but athletes and their entourages agreed the city is one of the best places on their circuit and will remain so for at least another year.
Triathletes are, by definition, mostly young. Also, they’re typically successful professionals who can afford to devote the time and money required to train for a three-sport competition that pays only a small handful of professionals. The international group that descended on Madison looked like a group photo from Professor Florida’s book – and many will go home to extol the virtues of a city and state that welcomed them and their sport. By the way, they also spent $2.5 million in five days, according to the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Wisconsin has much to offer creative workers who are looking for a diverse, entertaining place to live and work. We need the technology, the venture capital and the infrastructure – but we need the culture and the fun, too.
Still is the president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.
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