Long-time readers of this column likely remember that I am a Wisconsin native, loud and proud. Wisconsin is one of the Rust Belt states, flyover country for those on the coasts. Ask someone not from the Midwest to identify Wisconsin on the map, and they’re just as likely to pick Minnesota or Michigan as they are Wisconsin. (Admittedly, I sometimes swap Alabama and Mississippi on the map, so the problem is not unique to my home state.) Though Wisconsin’s national profile has risen a bit, thanks to its role as a swing state in recent presidential elections, most people would be hard pressed to name five famous Wisconsinites.

Did I stump you? I’ll give you four more at the end of this column, but there’s one Wisconsinite in the news everyday: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who recently spoke about the workers shortage in the United States. Ryan noted that some industries are having difficulty attracting workers due to the changing economy, a widening skills gap and a low labor force participation rate (the amount of people who work or are looking for work). According to the most recent JPMorgan Chase’s business outlook survey, conducted annually in January, executives feel confident about strong economic growth in 2018 while expressing doubts about the long-term prospects for hiring. As reported in The Hill, a little more than half (52 percent) cited a lack of applicants while 50 percent cited a shortage of candidates with sufficient skills or training.

How is this impacting your business? Programs for ammonia refrigeration training are expanding, as evidenced by an agreement inked by Jones County Junior College and Wagner-Meinert LLC. (See page 40 for more.) The skills gap seems ever more apparent in the connected plant, where employees are being tasked with managing key performance indicators rather than temperatures or flow rates. Going forward, U.S. manufacturers may need to identify and build training for the employees of the future or risk being left behind.

Still wondering about those famous Wisconsin natives? Orson Welles, an actor, director, writer and producer best known for “War of the Worlds” and Citizen Kane; noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright, father of organic architecture; William H. Rehnquist, former chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; and artist Georgia O’Keefe, best known for her paintings of large flowers and New Mexico landscapes.