WMC: National survey shows state’s brand needs work

Maybe Wisconsin’s reputation for beer and cheese stuck a little too much.

That’s the suggestion from a new national survey analyzing Wisconsin’s brand, released at Wednesday’s Future Wisconsin Economic Summit in Madison. The survey found the vast majority of people think most of Wisconsin’s jobs are in agriculture, not technology.

But the reality, state business leaders say, is Wisconsin’s economy is much more diverse and that too few people know the state’s top opportunities.

“We’ve got a very well-kept secret. We have jobs,” said Jim Morgan, the president of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Foundation. WMC organized the event.

Survey respondents described the state as “cold, socially intolerant and lacking in job opportunities,” according to a WMC release. All those negative perceptions help prevent talent from coming here and drive young Wisconsinites away, potentially worsening the state’s long-term demographic problems.

Wisconsin should instead emphasize some of the positive attributes — from affordability to outdoor activities, Morgan said. And Wisconsinites should avoid saying the state has a “weather problem” and embrace activities like snowshoeing and downhill skiing, he added.

“Instead of hunkering down and just hiding, go out there and enjoy,” Morgan said. “Other people don’t get to have that.”

To help with the effort, WEDC is seeking input for three proposed brand statements for Wisconsin: “can do,” “ever forward,” and “be bold.” Kelly Lietz, the WEDC spokesman who’s leading the effort, said it won’t be a message directed primarily at outsiders, but at Wisconsinites, who are “the strongest advocates for and beneficiaries of our brand.”

“We simply need to get better of telling the story we all know to be true,” Lietz said. “It’s a great story. It’s just not being heard — or not being heard enough.”

* See the survey

Also out yesterday was a set of benchmarks that found Wisconsin is “incredibly, awesomely, eye-poppingly average” by many measures, Morgan said.

The benchmarks found Wisconsin ranked 23rd in business competitiveness and 30th in entrepreneurial spirit. They also found Wisconsin ranked 18th in life quality, much of that driven by high college entrance scores and the quality of its health care system.

The talent pool in Wisconsin also ranks high, the benchmarks found, but the state ranks 34th in the average age of its population and 24th on net migration to the state.

Also of note was the state’s dead last ranking in its number of startups — something that could eventually change given its high rankings in research from both academia and industry.

“We’ve got some of the background here and some of the infrastructure in place to actually be better. … How do we capitalize on that?” Morgan said.

* See the benchmarks

— By Polo Rocha