WisBusiness: Report Says Badger State Gaining Brain Power, But Lags Minnesota

By Gregg Hoffmann

MILWAUKEE – Wisconsin is making progress on retaining and attracting educated workers, according to a report released at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Conference Wednesday.

In a study called, “Human Capital and Brain Power in the Wisconsin Economy: Shaping the New Wisconsin Economy,” prepared by David Ward of NorthStar Economics Inc., Wisconsin ranked above the national average in high school graduates over 25 and in those who hold associate degrees.

According to the 2004 census, Wisconsin has about 3.54 million residents who are 25 or older, about 64.2 percent of the population. Of that 3.54 million, about 88.8% hold high school diplomas. The national average is 85.2 percent.

In 2002, when the Wisconsin Technology Council first published Vision 2020: A Model Wisconsin Economy, about 86.6 percent of the 25 and older population had graduated from high school.

The percentage of people in the same age category holding associate degrees from technical colleges stood at 8.3 percent in Wisconsin in 2003, compared to 7 percent in the country. Data for 2004 was not available.

Both statistics surpassed benchmarks set for 2005 Vision when 2020 was published, according to David Winters of NorthStar.

Wisconsin also made progress in percentage of college-educated people 25 or older in the workforce. In 2004, 25.6 percent had earned at least a bachelor’s degree. That compares to 23.2% in 2002. But, it lags behind the national average of 27.7%.

“We’ve done well in the high school area and associate degrees, but still have work to do in attracting college graduates,” said Tom Still of the WTC.

Still said the term “brain drain” – long used to describe the loss of college graduates from Wisconsin to other states – is not completely accurate. The state actually holds its own in retaining its graduates, but lags behind in attracting graduates from other states.

“It might be called for of a lack of brain gain,” Still said.

The study also tracked trends in “knowledge and creative workers” – those holding doctorates and those working in the areas of specialized design, arts, entertainment and recreation and information. Wisconsin showed slight gains in all these categories.

“We are making progress,” Winters said. “I think one factor has been that we have created jobs in these areas. We continue to train people in the state in the areas.”

Still said the “entrepreneurial economy” of Wisconsin also has helped attract some of the knowledge and creative workers.

NorthStar will release quarterly studies in the areas of investment capital, knowledge and technology and business entrepreneurship and networks before the end of the year.

These, along with human capital, were designated as key factors for a “road to prosperity” for the Wisconsin economy in Vision 2020.

The conclusion of the study on human capital reads: “In a difficult climate, Wisconsin has made progress in many areas. The encouraging signs for 2003 and 2004 date need to continue in order for the state to grow its per capital income to the national average.

State incentives passed in the 2003-2005 state budget man be timely in further encouraging the growth in high-wage jobs.

“Despite signs of progress, the state must concentrate on the education level of its workforce. Below average numbers of college graduates is an area of concern. One only has to look to neighboring Minnesota to find a state that has 20% more college graduates in its workforce and per capital income that is nearly $4,000 higher.

“That economic equation is compelling and should provide a clear path for Wisconsin’s future actions.”