Gov. Scott Walker's job creation agency is launching a television ad campaign designed to lure businesses from Minnesota and Illinois, underscoring yet again the intense jostling for jobs between the border states.
But will it work?
Executives with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation showed WISC-TV parts of the state's new $2 million marketing campaign, which includes ads in business magazines and on websites -- and for the first time, on TV.
"Our goal is job creation at WEDC," said Deputy Secretary Ryan Murray. "We want the state to create jobs and we often refer to it in baseball terms of hitting a home run. In order to hit more home runs you need more at-bats and television ads is about generating more at-bats for the agency."
The two 30-second ads, which feature Wisconsin business leaders, cost the state $537,000. They'll run on CNN, CNBC, and Fox News during shows that target business executives in Chicago, Rockford, and the Twin Cities, all in hopes of generating at least 1,500 leads on new businesses.
Both ads feature shots of Milwaukee and Madison as well as the Fox River. The faces of a number of Wisconsin executives, including Kohler Co. President David Kohler and Schneider National Chief Executive Officer Christopher Lofgren, appear on the sides of buildings and railroad cars touting the state's workforce and how state government is business-friendly.
"Chances are they don't pick up the phone the first time they see the ad," Murray said. "But maybe after they've seen it a handful of times, combined with a positive news story about what's going on in Wisconsin, maybe they've heard something from a business colleague of theirs of an experience they've had in Wisconsin and I think when all those experiences add up, that's when a business owner picks up the phone and decides to call us about what are the opportunities."
"If a company in Illinois, Minnesota or any other state is considering expanding or relocating, we want to make sure that Wisconsin is among the options being considered," WEDC Secretary and CEO Reed Hall said in a statement. "This campaign is designed to help get that message out to those who may not yet be familiar with all Wisconsin has to offer."
It's being done in other states, with Indiana and Texas both advertising heavily.
Many Wisconsin residents will likely be skeptical about whether it's worth the money, but Murray said to wait and see.
"I think we are very hopeful about the results of this," said Murray. "I think we have a wonderful product to sell in Wisconsin, we have a tremendous business climate and I think it's time people in other states heard that message."
Walker has had a difficult time on the economic front. He's struggling to deliver on a campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs in his first term — the state added just 63,000 during his first two years in office — and the latest federal labor data shows Wisconsin is 37th in the nation in private-sector job growth. His efforts to coax businesses out of Illinois have angered Democrats in that state, including Gov. Pat Quinn.
Meanwhile, WEDC, the quasi-public agency Walker created to spearhead job creation, got off to a rough start; an audit last spring revealed the agency didn't consistently follow the law or its own policies during its first year, failed to adequately track loans and provided tax breaks to companies that didn't qualify.
The TV ads represent the agency's latest attempt to beef up marketing Wisconsin as a business destination. WEDC officials already have developed an "In Wisconsin" logo and placed ads in business magazines and online hoping to draw companies in. But the state has never tried television, WEDC officials said. They expect the ads will generate 23 million views and have set a goal of 2,030 ad-driven online and telephone inquiries.
The ads don't mention Minnesota, Illinois or any other state. Kelly Lietz, WEDC's vice president of marketing, said agency officials aren't looking for a border war or to insult anyone. Still, Murray acknowledged Wisconsin is competing with neighboring states.
"I'm sure my counterpart in Illinois won't be happy to see these ads running in his state," Murray said. "But it's a competitive environment."
David Roeder, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said he's not shocked that the ads will run. But he insisted Illinois' tax climate is far better than Wisconsin's.
"It's not surprising that they're doing that. We have some of what they want," Roeder said. "We think the whole package of what Illinois offers is very enticing for businesses."
Pat Swenson, a spokesman for Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, called the ads "a stunt" in an email to The Associated Press.
"Given how bad (Wisconsin's economic growth and job creation) results have been," he said, "it is unsurprising they are trying this kind of Hail Mary pass."
The ads will begin airing Monday morning in those three TV markets and will run for eight weeks.
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