This July, I will celebrate my 73rd birthday, and I’m proud to say that I’ve lived most of my life in rural Sauk County. I love my community and our way of life. In my time, I’ve seen a lot of change. Over the last few decades, we’ve seen families leave our communities. Children grow up, go off to college, then move to a city or suburb to raise their families. Why does this happen? Jobs.
Outmigration is one of the greatest threats to our way of life. Loss of population hurts our schools, our local businesses, and our community fabric. For us to thrive, we need to keep our friends and neighbors working in our cities, villages, and towns. Right to work legislation is one of several tools we can use to attract jobs, put people to work, and maintain our communities.
Let’s look at the facts. I support right to work because it attracts jobs – specifically manufacturing jobs. Many manufacturers hire people called site selectors to help them decide the best place to locate their plant. For these site selectors, right to work legislation can be a key factor in determining where a new business will grow. For example, a well-known site selector had this to say about right to work:
“Some of our clients request that we search only in states that are right-to-work, so it does make a difference in the number of projects that may look at your state. This is not industry specific but mostly based on the experience of the clients, although we work mostly with manufacturing clients. Indiana has indicated a large increase in the number of projects looking at the state after passing right-to-work legislation…”
Another site selector stated that right to work was a requirement for around 95% of the manufacturing projects that they sited. These are jobs that we’re missing out on right now. They are passing us by, and our neighborhoods suffer for it.
But what about wages? When adjusted for cost of living, wages are actually higher in right to work states than they are in states like Wisconsin. In addition, wage growth in right to work states happens faster. This means that workers in right to work states have more buying power, and their wages are growing at a faster rate than for workers in states that don’t have this legislation. This is partially a function of the market. More businesses equal more competition for employees, which equals wage growth.
We can’t reverse a decades long trend like outmigration overnight, or with one piece of legislation. It takes time, and it takes the willingness to attack the problem from several angles. Last session, the Legislature passed bills that facilitated further cooperation between local businesses, schools, and technical institutions. In this year’s budget, we are looking at freezing tuition for young people who want to pursue a technical degree. Right to work is one of several pieces of legislation that we are using to bring more manufacturing jobs back to our state. By using all the tools at our disposal, we can reverse the trends. That’s why this bill is right for rural Wisconsin.
Brooks (R-Reedsburg) has served in the Assembly since 2009. His district includes Greenwood township in Vernon County.
This op-ed was written before Gov. Scott Walker signed the right to work bill into law March 9 at Badger Metals in Brown Deer.