As Wisconsin’s economy continues to improve and the state’s unemployment rate drops to record-low levels, companies in all industries across the state are becoming increasingly concerned about being able to hire and retain qualified workers to accommodate their plans for growth.

Wisconsin’s regions have realized that an approach of collaboration, rather than competition, among communities will better help each region, and the state as a whole, attract the skilled and talented workers that are needed to ensure the continued strength of Wisconsin’s economy. One initiative that embodies this collaborative spirit is YPWeek.

Founded in 2012, YPWeek is a series of events that takes place each April, serving as a platform for discovery, adventure and meaningful conversations about the issues that matter to young professionals. Created by Milwaukee-based social architecture firm NEWaukee, YPWeek went statewide in 2015 with the support of WEDC. “Seeing what NEWaukee accomplished by creating unique opportunities to connect Milwaukee’s young professionals to each other and the community at large, we felt the same formula could be applied to other cities throughout Wisconsin,” says Rebecca Deschane, talent initiatives director for WEDC and the UW System, who helped build connections among NEWaukee and like-minded organizations across the state interested in attracting and retaining talented young people. WEDC’s investment in YPWeek reflects the important role millennials play in the state’s future talent pipeline.

Now in its seventh year, YPWeek has expanded to a coordinated statewide initiative with events in 28 communities across Wisconsin. This initiative has grown beyond a single week in April, and has evolved into a peer network with engagement throughout the year. The YPWeek model has become a national model copied in other places, and in 2016 won an award from the International Economic Development Council. In a new element added this year, excursions were added outside of YPWeek to encourage young people to discover other communities around the state, in addition to active participation in events within their own communities during YPWeek itself.

The week’s activities engaged the millennial workforce in experiences that are important to young professionals, while educating their employers on the important role these functions play in retaining their workforce. Workshops included “The Interview: A Reverse Job Fair,” “ToolBox Lunch: Navigating Career Decisions,” and “The Dating Game: Non-Profit Edition,” among others.

“Companies across the globe are quickly realizing that demographic trends and innovation in manufacturing and product development have shifted corporate location strategies to increasingly focus on talent pipelines and workforce availability,” explains Tricia Braun, WEDC deputy secretary and chief operating officer. “Keeping the quality workforce that we’ve grown here in Wisconsin, as well as attracting workers from outside of the state, is vital for the future of our businesses and communities. WEDC and its many partners, including the state’s young professionals’ groups, are working together to promote Wisconsin as a destination for personal, professional and business success.”

Building upon the foundation established as a result of YPWeek Wisconsin, WEDC will continue to work with its partners to develop other strategies to help attract and retain a strong workforce. Those efforts are expected to include leveraging the young professional network to promote personal and career opportunities in their communities; enlisting university alumni groups in recruitment and attraction efforts; and showcasing Wisconsin as a great place to live and work.

For more information on YPWeek Wisconsin, please visit www.ypweek.com.