We are an aging community that continues to age. In 2015, the median age of Fond du Lac County was estimated at 41 years old (which is three years older than the national average). Less than one-fifth of our population is between the important age cohort of 20-34 years. If we do nothing, the trend line will continue in a troubling direction. We must take action so our community has a generation of well-trained people to pass the torch.
The exodus of educated young people from a community is not unique to Fond du Lac. It has been estimated by various studies that between 9,000 and 14,000 college graduates leave Wisconsin each year. It is a pervasive challenge across the state, affecting Milwaukee, Madison, Sheboygan, Appleton, Oshkosh, and beyond. We are not alone.
Over the course of the past year, we have spoken with hundreds of students and young professionals about what it would take to retain them or recruit them to our community. What is evident is that the wants of the next generation are appreciably different than that of middle-aged or older generations. There is elevated value placed on lifestyle, diversity, cultural amenities, urbanism, and a vibrant social scene. While some aspects of this currently exist in our community, we must do a better job to make Fond du Lac a fun and exciting place for the next generation to live.
Young people do more than invigorate a community with youthful energy. They start families, they volunteer, they pay taxes, and they enact change. People in their teens, 20s, and 30s are our next generation of leaders and workers – our mayors, teachers, executives, city council members, police officers, small business owners, factory workers, and more. The lack of a qualified workforce to fill open jobs is often one of the major reasons that companies relocate to greener pastures. We cannot thrive as a community without an infusion of new talent in their 20s and 30s.
We must be a hub and destination for young people. We are realistic enough to know that we cannot retain every single young person that graduates from our schools, no matter what the community offers. But we want the remainder to know that we are committed to them. For those that initially move away, they will always have a place to come back to and thrive. They will have an emotional connection to Fond du Lac and a trove of good memories that makes them proud of their hometown.
Our net is wider, however, than just those who grew up in Fond du Lac and attended our schools and universities. Building a new generation of leaders is more than just retention – it’s about attracting new blood as well. We are putting out a call to youth across the Midwest. Maybe you’ve never heard of Fond du Lac, but you will and we promise you will love it here. We have a story to tell and we want you to be a part of our future.
What can we do to attract, retain, and invest in our next generation? We are going to focus our resources on four key initiatives: building strong ties and social bonds between youth and their community, making Fond du Lac a fun and livable place for people in their 20s and 30s, proactively marketing Fond du Lac on college campuses across the Midwest, and enhancing professional development and career opportunities for young professionals.
[ * ] Denotes Year 1 Action Item