Growing shortage of workers in the La Crosse area

There is a growing shortage of workers in the La Crosse area, and it’s only projected to get worse.

The 7 Rivers Alliance, an economic development agency in La Crosse, found that by 2026 there will be more than 15,000 job openings in our area that will go unfilled.

This means it’s getting more and more competitive for companies to attract and retain high-quality employees, which is why many businesses like Kwik Trip are offering unique benefits.

John McHugh, Director of Public Relations for Kwik Trip, said, “If you work in a company where you know most of the profits come back to you, you work harder and you want to work for that company.”

To attract high-level workers, Kwik Trip shares 40 percent of its pretax profits with its employees,

“One of our other benefits is we have our own on-site health care clinic here. It’s run with Marathon Health and so our coworkers have access to health care right here where they work.”

McHugh said it’s not just about attracting workers but also holding onto them.

“You keep a coworker through a culture of compassion, generosity and good benefits. Its way cheaper than trying to find somebody off the street,” McHugh said.

Because of this, the company tries to reward people who’ve been with them for a significant amount of time.

“We have something called the sabbatical program where if you’ve been employed here at Kwik Trip for 20 years, whether that’s part-time or full-time you get an entire month paid vacation in addition to your regular vacation.”

All of these benefits are part of the reason Kwik Trip hasn’t seen a drop in applicants.

“Last year for 4,000 openings in the entire company we had 136,000 applications,” McHugh said.

Vicki Markussen, the Executive Director of the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce says most area businesses are struggling to find employees.

“There is just not enough bodies.”

Markussen said there are a number of reasons why there’s a shortage of workers.

“What’s happening is we have Baby Boomers who are retiring faster than the millennial generation is coming of age and coming into positions,” Markussen said.

There are also more workers leaving the area than coming in.

“The only strategy that will be really effective is we have to get in the game of attracting people and talent to our area and to make sure our employers have a really attractive package so they can do so,” Markussen said.

If companies attract people to our area, Markussen said, everyone will benefit.

“Then all of the other secondary businesses off of those attracting can benefit from the furniture sales, and the restaurants and the eating out. There’s a ripple effect to us attracting talent and we really need to create those strategies,” Markussen said.

If companies can’t attract enough employees they may turn to robots instead.

“The industries can only adjust now to say how do we look at automation because of we can’t get more bodies we have to be looking at automation as a way to keep our production lines going,” Markussen said

7 Rivers Alliance says one of the other big factors keeping area residents from working is a need for childcare services.

Some local companies are looking into providing that for their employees as well.