Tuesday Trends sample: Tech colleges rising, tourism mixed and Milwaukee air travel falling

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RISING

Tech colleges: Wisconsin’s technical colleges have been mired in the political battle over education spending cuts and lagging employment numbers in the last year, but the Wisconsin Technical College System’s president says a new report shows the tech schools to be a bright spot in Wisconsin’s economy. The WTCS’ annual Graduate Follow-up Report says median salaries for new graduates were up over the previous year’s report, rising from $31,198 to $31,822 — and from $35,616 to $36,033 for 2011 graduates who earned associate degrees. The report also showed 88 percent of graduates were employed within six months of graduation, 86 percent of respondents are working in Wisconsin and 71 percent were employed directly in their field of study. WTCS officials attribute the income increases to advisory committees established in each program area, which they say utilize local business and industry representatives with first-hand knowledge of the issues in today’s job market.

MIXED

Tourism: The state Department of Tourism says the industry in Wisconsin had a banner year in 2011, headlined by an economic impact of $16 billion, an increase of 8 percent from $14.8 billion in 2010. Research conducted by Tourism Economics also found more than 95 million people visited the state — the second year in a row that number has risen — generating $1.3 billion in state and local revenue. The report said lodging sales increased 18 percent from the lows of 2009 at the height of the recession, and that overall tourism spending increased 7.6 percent to $9.8 billion. Meanwhile, the agency touted the success of last year’s “Picture the Fun” marketing campaign. Officials said the campaign — coupled with an increase in funding for tourism in the state budget — motivated more than 2.1 million visits in the summer and fall, and that the effort generated $6 for the state to every dollar spent by the department. But the largely positive report comes with some caveats. While the department says one in 13 jobs in Wisconsin rely on tourism, overall jobs tied to the industry tallied 181,369, an increase of just 0.42 percent. And some of the state’s traditional tourism magnets reported modest or declining tourism spending. Door County spending rose just 1.6 percent, while spending fell slightly in three other northern counties with tourism draws — Bayfield, Sawyer and Oneida.

FALLING

Milwaukee air travel: The cuts continue to accumulate for Frontier Airlines in the state’s largest city. After announcing route cuts and hundreds of layoffs in Milwaukee in February, the subsidiary of Indianapolis-based Republic Airways Holdings announces more cuts and 125 additional layoffs last week. Frontier says it will end all regional jet service from the city except for a route from Milwaukee to Rhinelander — and the company says that remaining route will also be shifted to another carrier. After those cuts, only Denver, Orlando and Washington, D.C. will be served by Frontier regional jets out of Mitchell International Airport, and overall daily Frontier departures from Milwaukee will drop from 18 to seven. Mitchell itself also saw a continued drop in passenger traffic, with the latest monthly numbers showing 737,822 passengers in March. That’s an 18 percent drop from the 896,158 passengers in March of 2011 and the tenth consecutive monthly drop following a long stretch of record-high traffic.