There is a little more drive to have a relaxed lifestyle…people are evaluating their quality of life…we are seeing businesses making sure their employees are connected to the community…and ensuring that the work environment is the best.
Amy Gabay 00:00
This podcast is brought to you by People’s Food Co Op, a community owned grocery store in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin and Rochester, Minnesota that promotes local farmers and producers through an emphasis on fresh, healthy, sustainable food. Anyone can shop. Everyone is welcome. For more information visit them online at PFC.CoOp. We chatted with Neil Zygarlicke, CEO of the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce. We talked about his past and what led him to the area in his current role. We touch on the 150 year old history of the organization, chamber service and dive into talent attraction. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy.
Brent Hanifl 00:47
And I’m Brent.
Amy Gabay 00:48
And this is La Crosse Local.
Neil Zygarlicke 00:50
I’m Neil Zygarlicke. Born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin moved to Marshfield, Wisconsin and lived there from 3 to 18. And then I went to school at Viterbo University in La Crosse, and I haven’t left.
Brent Hanifl 01:03
I’ve been aware of the La Crosse Chamber of Commerce, either professionally or just around the area. You know, it’s been around for 150 years. You guys offer a wide variety of services, you know, and opportunities for businesses and people moving here. But we’d like to kind of talk about the campaign for Talent Attraction. Can you share a little bit about that?
Neil Zygarlicke 01:22
Yeah, absolutely. You know, the Chamber has been around for a long time working with businesses, we do a ton of different things. But really one of our focuses over the past few years and launching in 2021 was this Talent Attraction campaign. And the tagline is Thrive in the Heart of the Driftless Region. And what we’re trying to do is attract 21 to 45 year olds, from metro areas in the Midwest, to show off La Crosse and show off the quality of life here in La Crosse, and throughout the Driftless region. For us who live here in La Crosse, we know that we have every recreational opportunity for us at our disposal. It’s not an exaggeration to say that you can go to work, be done with work, and you could be doing a recreational activity, whether that’s biking, hiking, out on the river within 10 to 15 minutes. And you can’t do that in larger metro areas and in larger cities. So we’re trying to attract those people to the quality of life that we have here, which is very high. And oh, by the way, there’s a ton of job openings around here. And we have a worker shortage. So we have a lot of great employers that need to fill jobs. It’s a combination of both we want attract people here, just to live here. But we also want them to fill our jobs.
Brent Hanifl 02:44
You know, just as like my own personal experience living in La Crosse proper here at eight o’clock, I could go all the way to the north side in about 11 minutes, you know, I’m central about Market Street. It just surprises me sometimes how easy it is to get around as well.
Neil Zygarlicke 02:59
It absolutely is easy to get north, south, and east, west is just so short, just because we’re pushed in between the Mississippi River and the bluffs. So it really is amazing to be able to go on a walk, go on a hike pretty much at your disposal. You can do that daily here. And go snowshoeing you know, or skiing or whatever within a relatively small amount of time. And in other areas like metro areas, you might be traveling, not only 25 minutes for a commute to work, if you’re working in the office, but you might be going 30, 45 minutes to get to that recreational opportunity that you love to do.
Brent Hanifl 03:41
So, you know, we kind of touched on a few of those attributes. But you know, it seems nationwide cities are having these issues. I’m sure it’s really competitive trying to get these you know, you said 25 to 45 year old range. How does this area stand apart a little bit more?
Neil Zygarlicke 03:55
Our area, I truly believe just when we are marketing our area, it’s the quality of life. But in terms of the worker shortage nationwide, you’re correct everywhere is feeling this right now. What I think makes La Crosse and the La Crosse area a little bit different is we have a variety of industries. So yes, we do have major players and there are a lot of people that work for healthcare, higher education and within our government and retail. We also have a really strong sector of industry within distribution, manufacturing, hospitality, finance and construction. So it’s a wide variety, which is sometimes really, really good. But in our case right now, everybody needs people. So all of these industries are maybe not growing as fast as they want to because they can’t fill the positions. So every industry is kind of being hurt right now, where maybe other areas in the nation they are focused heavily on technology. And they have really a good technology industry and sector. Well, they sometimes might not have, might not be hurting as much from a worker shortage because that one hub of technology is so good. So right now, if we don’t fill the pipeline of workers and figure out our worker shortage here, there’s a little worry that maybe our industries and our businesses don’t grow as fast as they want to grow, which obviously hurts us economically.
Brent Hanifl 05:31
Looking at La Crosse, I’m a lifelong local in a sense, I left for some time to various states and went and got the degrees, got the professional experience. With that, do you feel organizations kind of like tasks like you guys, and also just business in general, do we have a long way to go to kind of attract the audience that we want comparative to other places?
Neil Zygarlicke 05:52
We’re a little bit of a hidden gem. We’re in between Rochester, Minnesota, the Twin Cities, Madison, Milwaukee, you know, and even down into Iowa with Dubuque. So we’re kind of in the middle of all of those, are a little bit of a hidden gem, getting our name out there continues to be brought up. The Driftless region has really helped us. That kind of way of life has really helped. I mean, we’ve gotten for the Driftless region in general, has now made you know, the Washington Post in headline news and articles, the Chicago Tribune. So there’s just a lot of, there’s a lot of drive behind people wanting to have a little bit more of a relaxed lifestyle. And La Crosse plans right perfectly in the middle of that. So that’s kind of how we stand out. And I think that makes sense for the people who are in the ages of 21 to 45, especially through the pandemic, that people are reevaluating their quality of life. And I think it’s pretty high here compared to other areas, kind of playing devil’s advocate.
Brent Hanifl 06:57
That’s why I kind of brought up my own experience being a local here, just like yourself, coming here for school and eventually staying. Do you believe there’s a hesitation to hire local employees? You know, like, is there some sort of, I guess, campaign to address this terms of retention actually, keeping those people here?
Neil Zygarlicke 07:16
Yeah, I think most companies will tell you, they want to hire a local person, it’s a lot less expensive. For them, it’s a little bit easier for them, they don’t have to sell the area, or spend recruiting dollars, you know, out of their budget to recruit people. But what I’m seeing from our local businesses is trying to enhance what that work balances and what that work culture is. At our businesses, we see more benefits being offered within our businesses, we see organizations that are trying to ensure that their employees are connected to the community in different ways, because they know they have a life outside of work. So we see a lot of businesses spending a lot of time trying to ensure that their work environment is the best, and that the people that they are employing feel like they’re at home here in La Crosse. So there is a lot going on, within individual companies to keep people here and that’s a heavy thing right now is to try to keep the talent that we have here. But oh, we also need a lot more people that to continue to grow within our businesses. And that’s why we have to do the Talent Attraction.
Brent Hanifl 08:27
We’re all kind of coming out of two years of COVID here, seems like it’s been forever. But it’s starting to look up in a lot of ways I think, you know, related to businesses and entrepreneurs, I see a lot of people actually starting businesses, because they were either let go, or they left that situation. In the business world, or even, you know, the Chamber world, what are you excited for the next year or two?
Neil Zygarlicke 08:47
I’m excited, just to continue to bring new people into the community. I think that’s exciting from the Talent Attraction side. But beyond that, what I’m excited for is just us to maybe get a little bit inching closer back to what was normal, you know, thinking back to 2019. But that being said, if the pandemic really helped a lot of people reevaluate their lives, organizations completely reevaluated how they treated employees. And I think that we’re moving in the right direction overall, just treating people really well, and ensuring that they have a good job, a good work environment and a great life. And that’s exciting from a chamber perspective. I mean, I know we’re really excited to focus on small businesses going forward. We’re actually hiring a full time employee to solely focus and listen to small businesses and offer more services and opportunities from the chamber perspective for small businesses. Those small businesses are, they are what keep people here. They’re what make us very good and unique and make this place that we love, La Crosse, feel like home. So we’re really excited to do a little bit more with the small businesses in the future for sure over the next two years and beyond it that’s something that’s really exciting for us.
Brent Hanifl 10:05
So for you know, you, being you know, living here, have had some time here also in your position, what do you like to do in terms of like, going out after work, something that could really kind of attract people. What’s something that you dig?
Neil Zygarlicke 10:29
I enjoy cocktails, a good beer and food, so you can find me at some of the fancier restaurants such as La Chateau, or the Waterfront or the distillery. But you can also find me at a wonderful townie bar, getting a pizza and a burger. So I enjoy frequently in our great restaurants here. From a like recreational opportunity. I enjoy hiking. So I enjoy going through Hickson Forest, and going out and about. And then my wife and I also like to just bicycle around. So we often bike through the Marsh and then down through Riverside and things like that. So it’s just a wonderful way to spend an afternoon or even an evening. And I think one other thing that I absolutely love is Moon Tunes down at Riverside during the summer. That’s something that we go to nearly every week. And we really look forward to when the weather’s warmer.
Brent Hanifl 11:24
We’re all about live music in the arts and food here La Crosse Local. So if people want to find out more, what’s the best, you know, website or social media or what have you to go to?
Neil Zygarlicke 11:33
The Talent Attraction campaign is actually through thriveinlacrosse.com. So thriveinlacrosse.com, that has a wonderful video. It has business resources and marketing materials on there as well. If you haven’t seen that video, I really encourage you to go to that website and look for it. See what it’s all about. It’s just a beautiful website. But overall for the chamber and all the other things that we do with businesses you can go to lacrossechamber.com.
Amy Gabay 12:07
La Crosse Local Podcast is a production of River Travel Media. Do you have an interview idea you’d like to share with us? Message us on Facebook at La Crosse Local. Find out more about us at lacrosselocal.com and you can subscribe to the La Crosse Local Podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you like us, rate us five stars. We appreciate it.
About La Crosse Local
La Crosse Local is an arts, food, and entertainment podcast and publication for La Crosse County and its surrounding communities.
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