Current Events

Title:Wisconsin blitz to attract veterans, spouses to live, work in state

Author:MIKE TIGHE - La Crosse Tribune

Date:January 2019

Source:© 2019 Stars and Stripes, reprinted with permission

Volume:Volume 3 Issue 150

(Tribune News Service) — Wisconsin is launching a $1.9 million national marketing campaign to attract military personnel and their spouses to the Badger State to live and work when they leave the service.

The talent quest will include online ads and personal contact, among other features, to lure military personnel to Wisconsin when they leave the service, according to speakers who detailed the program during a press conference Friday at Logistics Health Inc. in La Crosse.

The campaign is part of the state's new $6.8 million marketing initiative aimed at attracting talent to fill current and future workforce needs. It is the first time the state has targeted military personnel and spouses with such a campaign.

One of its key elements will be sending delegations composed of state officials and veteran-friendly companies in Wisconsin, such as LHI, to "transition summits" at more than a dozen military installations throughout the nation and overseas, said Daniel Zimmerman, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

"There simply ... aren't enough veterans to go around for Wisconsin," Zimmerman said.

"Several hundred employers have several thousand jobs" ranging from entry level to top positions, he said, as an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 veterans transition to civilian life.

Sending Wisconsin envoys to the summits to recruit service members and their spouses several months before discharge will put the Badger State at the forefront of their minds, Zimmerman said.

"Our veteran population doesn't always return home," he said. "We can sit back and wait" or pursue them before they even leave the service.

The nonprofit Hiring our Heroes organization hosts the two-day summits. Wisconsin is the first state to partner with the group, an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

LHI will be represented at the first summit a Wisconsin delegation will visit. That summit will take place Wednesday and Thursday at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in California. The delegations also will participate in spouse symposiums, round tables, networking events and similar opportunities.

LHI founder and CEO Don Weber addressed the press conference by beginning, "I never fail to take the opportunity when I'm before a microphone to thank our veterans. ... This company would not be what it is today without veterans."

Weber's goal is to have veterans or their spouses make up 20 percent of LHI's workforce of nearly 2,400 people, and he said it has reached 11 percent.

Noting that only about 1 percent of the population enters military service, Weber said, "Our veterans and spouses — think about the sacrifices they have made. They enlist because it is an honor and a privilege, and they go outside the comfort zone where most of us live."

Veterans and their spouses model courage and dedication in volunteering to serve in positions in which "they don't do it for the pay," he said.

Weber, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War who usually is reluctant to talk about his own life, responded during an interview to a question about being homeless on the streets of Boston not long after mustering out.

"I had been out for a while, and I carried a lot of guilt," said Weber, who received a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars. "Most of the Marines I served with didn't come back. I had a lot of self-pity, and that is the worst kind of pity. I made a lot of bad choices and dug a hole for myself."

After losing a job and an apartment, he said, he realized "I needed to make better choices. I began laying water and sewer pipes and putting in driveways on weekends," he said.

After digging out of the hole two years later and driven by the strong work ethic he learned being raised on a farm, he came back to La Crosse at the age of 28 and met Roxanne, the woman who would become his wife.

"We didn't have any money," he said, and their business went bad and was repossessed.

Nine years later, he got the LHI idea to help provide health services to military personnel and veterans — an idea that turned into a multimillion-dollar business.

"I thought maybe this was a way to give back," he said, adding that LHI's involvement with the state veteran initiative is another step along that path.

The campaign is a collaborative effort of the state's Economic Development Corp. and the Workforce Development, Veterans Affairs and Tourism departments.

Other campaign elements include:
  • A $325,000 media campaign that will run through June 30 will include social media posts, digital ads focusing on the bases the Wisconsin delegations will visit and print ads and online ads in publications and websites geared toward transitioning veterans and their spouses.
  • A new veterans section of where veterans can explore career and lifestyle opportunities. The page includes job and home search tools.
  • A new search tool on the state Department of Workforce Development's website, including a search bar that allows veterans to seek jobs that fit the skills they learned in the military.
  • Expanding the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs concierge service to Wisconsin military veterans to include service members throughout the country.
  • The Department of Tourism will engage with veterans by distributing promotional materials in welcome centers, military history museums and at other attractions catering to veterans to promote the state as not only a travel destination but also a job resource for veterans.

"Why would you not hire veterans?" Weber said. "It's the right thing to do, and we're very proud to be a part of it. If you're a business owner or business leader, you ought to be fighting for these people."

Veteran recruitment initiative

A $325,000 media campaign in Wisconsin's initiative to attract military veterans and their spouses to live and work in Wisconsin will include:

  • Print ads in GI Jobs and Military Spouse publications.
  • Online display ads on websites targeting transitioning veterans and their spouses, such as, and
  • Monthly email blasts to the mailing lists of, and RallyPoint.
  • Social media posts targeting transitioning military personnel on RallyPoint.
  • Geo-targeted digital ads focusing on bases that Wisconsin delegations will visit in the United States and abroad, as well as additional bases.
Additional elements in the campaign will include:
  • Videos promoting Badger State opportunities for careers, education, family, housing, community and quality of life. The videos will be aimed at transitioning veterans and their spouses on a variety of platforms.
  • A new blog tailored to transitioning veterans and their spouses, with plans to publish three entries a month.
  • Sending Wisconsin delegations to 16 Hiring our Heroes transition summits at military installations throughout the United States and abroad to raise awareness of what they can accomplish in Wisconsin.

© 2018 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.)
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