InsideWis: Need for skilled workers justifies investment in campus tech buildings

In La Crosse, business leaders from Trane Industries, Mayo Clinic, Kwik Trip and more want the next phase of a thrice-rejected health and science center to be built on the UW-La Crosse campus. Why? Those companies and others need future students from the Prairie Springs Science Center to work in their labs, clinics and production facilities.

In Madison, 322 corporations and other major employers attended a three-day “career fair” in September to compete for upcoming graduates of the College of Engineering. More than 235 of those mostly large employers have operations in Wisconsin. Why were they there? To find and recruit talented workers from today’s limited engineering pool. A new building would accommodate about 1,000 additional graduates per year.

Businesses across Wisconsin see the connection between educating science, technology and engineering students and building a more resilient 21st century workforce. It’s time for the Wisconsin Legislature to pay closer attention to what those employers are telling them.

The $347 million engineering building proposed for the UW-Madison campus and the $180 million structure at UW-La Crosse are two prominent examples of stalled projects that have left many business leaders scratching their heads. Although topping the UW Board of Regents request list, they have failed to pass muster in the Legislature – despite evidence of business workforce needs and, especially in the case of the Madison engineering hall, private donor support.

The reasons why they have not yet been approved are complicated.

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