Missy Hughes, Secretary & CEO, WEDC

Missy Hughes, Secretary & CEO, WEDC

By Missy Hughes
WEDC Secretary and CEO

There’s been a lot of good news about Wisconsin lately, and it’s only just the start.

First, recent U.S. Census figures show our state’s population grew by about 20,000 in 2023, the biggest one-year increase in this decade.

Among Midwest states, only Indiana and Minnesota were ahead of us for population growth. Iowa and Michigan both grew, but more slowly, while the population of Illinois declined.

More importantly, our rural communities—which make up the heart and soul of our state—are also holding their own.

A recent report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum found that between 2010 and 2020, Wisconsin’s rural population growth was second to North Dakota among 12 Midwest states.

During that same period, Wisconsin was one of only four states in the region whose rural population held steady or increased. This is important because, other research has shown, Wisconsin tends to be a state of “stayers,” so once you’re here, you’re likely here for good.

These statistics suggest that while we still must draw new workers to our state and keep the ones we have, we’re working from a solid base.

Those attraction and retention efforts are about to get a big boost as the global spotlight turns to Wisconsin. Over the next year or so, the world will be seeing our state in new and different ways—from food to politics to sports.

Starting in March, viewers of the TV phenomenon known as “Top Chef” will be spending the season in Wisconsin, offering an up-close look at the amazing culinary diversity and incredible quality of life we enjoy here.

This summer, Milwaukee will become the center of the political world as the Republican National Convention draws thousands of delegates and international media attention. In addition to being a major boost for the entire region’s hospitality industry, the event provides a chance to see the vibrance and resilience of our state’s biggest city.

And then next spring, the eyes of sports fans will be on Green Bay for three days as it hosts the NFL draft—football’s biggest off-season event, and another chance for visitors and the media to learn more about Wisconsin.

All this attention comes on top of a spate of remarkable economic news, including Microsoft’s decision to build a huge data center in southeast Wisconsin, the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s designation of our biohealth industry as a Regional Technology Hub, and the upcoming launch of the $100 million Wisconsin Investment Fund, the largest public-private investment in startups in state history.

WEDC is building on this momentum with the launch of a talent attraction campaign that combines online and TV advertising with person-to-person follow-up to attract potential new residents.

Our new website, LookForwardWisconsin.com, provides detailed information about all the ways people can live, work, and play in the Badger State—including the incredible opportunities available for military veterans. The site also highlights Wisconsin’s unique regions, whether it’s the Northwoods or the Driftless, from big cities to small towns.

What distinguishes this from previous initiatives is the emphasis on getting results. Folks who are interested in moving to the state fill out an online form, and they’re connected with local ambassadors who can help with everything from finding a job to choosing the right neighborhood. We’ll get a better sense of what newcomers are looking for and how to maximize Wisconsin’s appeal to them.

Our state is clearly having a moment. If we seize it, we’ll be celebrating many more.