License plate slogan should stay in place

posted Oct. 23, 2017 8:00 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Jim Massey, Editor |

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The executive director of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is proposing that something other than “America’s Dairyland” grace Wisconsin license plates, but the business leader might as well save his breath.

It ain’t gonna happen.

And it shouldn’t. If Kurt Bauer would have taken the time to visit World Dairy Expo in Madison earlier this month, it would have been obvious to him that indeed, dairy is still king in Wisconsin.

Yes, there are only 8,938 dairy farms left in Wisconsin, as of Oct. 1, and that number is catastrophically down from the number of dairies that once dotted the state’s landscape. But the dairy infrastructure is the strongest of anywhere in the nation and the dairy industry is more important to the state than any other industry out there. So why even think about changing the license plate slogan to something else?

During a recent trip to the New England states of Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, people everywhere associated a Wisconsin contingent as being from the dairy state. They mentioned cheese in particular and also threw in an occasional reference to the Green Bay Packers and their “cheesehead” followers, but no one heard comments such as, “Oh, yeah, you’re from the manufacturing epicenter of America.”

Bauer is suggesting that Wisconsin needs an image makeover to attract workers into other industries. He said many young people prefer to work and live in urban settings, and in places they view as welcoming and tolerant. They might not be attracted to a state that is known for its pastoral image and creamy dairy products, he said.

“America’s Dairyland” has been on Wisconsin-issued license plates since 1940. Legislators discussed ditching the slogan about 30 years ago but instead came up with a new license plate design that retained the slogan.

A committee appointed by then-Gov. Anthony Earl in the 1980s asked state residents for license plate slogan suggestions, and among the five finalists (of more than 111,000 ballots cast) were “We Like It Here” and “America’s Northern Escape.” Despite the effort, the America’s Dairyland slogan was retained. 

According to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal, Gov. Earl offered “Eat Cheese or Die,” a play on New Hampshire’s license plate slogan, “Live Free or Die,” and another discarded suggestion was “Come and Freeze in the Land of Cheese.” 

That would really attract the Millenials, wouldn’t it though?

Bauer said the state motto, “Forward,” would be a good license plate alternative. 

“To me, ‘Forward’ connotes resolve, indomitability and progress — not a bad image to project to the rest of the world,” Bauer said in a State Journal story. 

Or, maybe if Bauer and others are trying to attract people into the manufacturing jobs that are supposedly going to be created in the state by Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn, they would prefer that the license plate slogan be, “Live here, make liquid crystal displays. It’s awesome.”

Agriculture groups predictably jumped on Bauer’s suggestion with opposition to the proposed slogan change. Amy Eckelberg, executive director of public relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, said the dairy mantra makes sense because “no other single product has more of an economic impact in Wisconsin than milk.”

Not even liquid crystal displays.

Mike North, president of the Dairy Business Association, said it would be “disheartening” to make such a change after 80 years of America’s Dairyland being the slogan.

“We are talking about a $43.4-billion impact on the Wisconsin economy and tens of thousands of jobs,” North said. “There are few single products in this state that provide more of an economic boost.

“The dairy community — with its hard-working farm families, cheesemakers and host of other supporting businesses — has been the backbone of this state for well over a century. That heritage, and how far we have come, should be great sources of pride. Those are things to be celebrated, not hidden.”

The Legislature has more important things to do than waste time debating a license plate slogan change when it isn’t going to happen. Even though rural people are outnumbered by their urban neighbors in the Badger State by a sizable percentage, rural voters still have considerable clout. 

Just ask President Donald Trump. Wisconsin’s farmers and rural residents helped him get into the White House. They could help some legislators work their way out of a job, too.

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