Hey, disillusioned Chicago-area millennials! The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has a message for you — yes, you! — and that message is: MOVE TO WISCONSIN, YOU BIG BABY. The state has spent nearly $1 million on an ad campaign intended to convince Chicagoans to pull up their stakes, and head to the Badger State. Can’t handle big city traffic? Move to Wisconsin! Sick of having to take public transportation? Move to Wisconsin! Can’t make rent in your tiny little apartment? You got it: Move to Wisconsin!
The campaign’s message to Chicagoans is simple: “Wisconsin. It’s more you.” One ad shows a train full of sad, exhausted Chicago commuters heading home on a train, juxtaposed with what they could have if they MOVED TO WISCONSIN: A homemade meal in a massive kitchen with a marble island and a lovely backsplash, plus one of those nice ovens that’s separate from the stove. “Don’t just make dinner,” it reads. “Make dinner.” Make dinner in Wisconsin.
The Chicago Tribune reported that the ads, which began appearing this week, are targeting a “very specific” audience: upscale millennials. Trains on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Brown and Purple lines — the only lines that run through downtown Chicago but don’t venture to the South or West sides — will be wrapped with ads urging commuters to consider a change in location. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s goal is to lure upwardly-mobile young people to the state in order to address its lack of workers. Achieving this, according to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, requires challenging the perception of Wisconsin as “flyover country.”
Wisconsin isn’t the first place to attempt to attract potential workers through an ad campaign. Tennessee had a “WorkIT Nashville” campaign that attempted to attract tech workers to the city, launching a website allowing people to upload their resumes and search for jobs. Pittsburgh’s “Imagine Pittsburgh” website lists job opportunities and events to attract potential newcomers. The “Hello West Michigan” campaign encouraged people to “find your reason” to move to the area, including lower housing costs and access to the Great Lakes. Wisconsin’s ads similarly promise shorter commute times, lower housing costs and property taxes, and more free time, as well as a website listing job opportunities and real estate listings.
Regardless, the ad campaign has more in common with Detroit’s poorly-thought-out “See Detroit Like We Do” ad from last year. The ad, which was paid for by Quicken Loans Founder and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, almost exclusively depicted white people in its portrayal of Detroit's vibrancy, even though 80 percent of city residents and more than 20 percent of residents in the metropolitan area are black. Unlike the Wisconsin ads, Gilbert wasn’t trying to get people to move to Detroit — they were placed in the city — but both ad campaigns implicitly hold white, wealthy people as ideal denizens.
“People don’t think of Wisconsin in the terms of all the opportunities it has to offer,” Kelly Lietz, the vice president of the state’s Economic Development Corporation, told the Associated Press. “People outside the state don’t know and don’t understand.”
But the most damning part of the campaign isn’t that Wisconsin needs to attract more workers — according to the AP, there were 4.7 million people in Chicago’s labor force last November, compared to 3 million workers in the entire state of Wisconsin — but that Wisconsin seems to only want a particular kind of worker. Officials at the Economic Development Corporation decided they wanted to attract people who were young, upwardly mobile, and hardworking, so they placed targeted ads in certain Chicago neighborhoods while excluding others. In the second-most racially segregated city in the country, the placement of these ads is no accident. A spokesman for the state's Economic Development Corporation told the Tribune that “the Brown Line was chosen because it travels within the downtown Loop and North Side neighborhoods popular with millennials,” but anyone who’s spent even a little time in the city will tell you there’s plenty of young people outside those traditionally bourgeois areas. They just might not be as rich, or as monochromatic. (A 2015 New York Times map shows how heavily white those targeted neighborhoods are.) Considering the quotes from the involved officials, it’s hard to think they don’t know exactly the implications of limiting their ad buy to such specific areas.
Nonetheless, this is what the state is going for. The ads aren’t just seen on public transportation. Bars in downtown Chicago are being outfitted with MOVE TO WISCONSIN coasters. Digital ads at gyms will urge health-conscious Chicagoans to MOVE TO WISCONSIN, and target “people between the ages of 21 and 34 who live in or around Chicago,” as well as “Wisconsin college alumni who have scattered across the country,” the AP reported. Even if you manage to avoid the trains and coasters and treadmill ads, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation will find you. They will find you, and they will ask, hey, have you ever thought about moving to Wisconsin? Assuming you’re the “right” kind of worker for the modern economy they want.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Detroit's metro area, not the city proper, is 20 percent Black.