Where is the Wisconsin license plate logo going?

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer

A bill proposed to redesign the Wisconsin license plate to "reflect who we are, not who we were," has come against opposition from some dairy groups in the state. 

Would slogans like "Forward" be more appropriate than the current logo "America's Dairyland" on the state's license plates?

In a Nov. 2 memo to his legislative colleagues, 97th Assembly District Representative Scott Allen pointed out that over 70 percent of Wisconsinites live in urban areas and more than 88 percent of workers in the state are working at a place unrelated to agriculture. 

"We are proud of our heritage as “America’s Dairyland,” and the fact that we not only produce the most cheese, but also the best cheese in the entire United States. We also need to communicate to the nation that Wisconsin is so much more," said Allen in the memo, seeking co-sponsorship of the bill.

New plate logo?

The proposed bill would require the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) to contract with an art education association to conduct a contest in 2018, which would be open to Wisconsin high school students. The association would narrow entries for consideration with Governor Scott Walker making the final selection. 

Allen said license plates serve as advertisements across America because of their mobility. Wisconsin's plate logo is "less noteworthy,"  often covered by license plate frames and should reflect where we are going as a state. 

"Wisconsin’s economy has undergone a remarkable transformation from rural to urban, from agriculture to bioengineering and high-tech manufacturing. Wisconsin is quickly becoming a leader in high-tech industries, such as information technology and health care," Allen wrote in the memo to legislators. "Our growing water technology sector, attracting Foxconn and the anticipated growth of “Wisconn Valley,” as well as the booming biotech industry, will all contribute to Wisconsin’s economic future."

If updated state license plates will portray the image of the future for the state, "it seems far better to let the next generation be engage in, and responsible for, the new license plate design," Allen wrote. 

The DOT would award a $1,000 scholarship to the winner. Plates with the new design would start being issued in July 2019, according to Allen's memo. 

The words “America’s Dairyland” are not required to be used, but are not prohibited from consideration either, according to the memo.

Dairy opposition

However, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) and the Dairy Business Association (DBA) disagree with "where we are going" as a state. 

WCMA Executive Director John Umhoefer pointed out that dairy generates $43.4 billion to the state's economy and supports tens of thousands of jobs. 

"Dairy isn't 'who we were.' It is, without a question, where we are going as a state," Umhoefer said in a statement. 

“All across Wisconsin, new factories are opening with hundreds of new, family-supporting jobs available, not only in cheese manufacturing, but also in cutting and packaging cheese products, warehousing cheese, and distributing cheese to markets around the world," added Umhoefer. “It’s disappointing that Rep. Allen would fail to celebrate Wisconsin’s hard working dairy farm families and cheesemakers.”

DBA President Mike North said in a letter to state legislators it doesn't make sense to "back away" from a brand that took more than a century of "a lot of effort and money" to create. 

"At a minimum, we ask that you oppose this proposed legislation. Even better, let’s get creative with what the Legislature can do to further strengthen our strong and dynamic dairy community,” North challenged legislators. 

Contemporary marketing?

Allen's proposed bill comes following comments from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) President Kurt Bauer at an Oct. 16 luncheon for Wisconsin business leaders. Bauer suggested different marketing for the state. 


Pointing to the Foxconn announcement made live on cable channels across the country, Bauer said, "you can't beat that kind of publicity," and it shows that "Wisconsin can compete in the big leagues." 

"I think it’s time we consider removing America’s Dairyland from our license plate in favor of something more contemporary," said Bauer. " 'Forward,' for example, can know its resolve, indomitability and progress — it's our state motto, has been since statehood 170 years ago. And it’s not a bad image to project to the rest of the world."

According to Bauer, a WMC Foundation nation-wide survey showed that people outside of Wisconsin believe the type of jobs available in Wisconsin are largely agricultural dominated.

"That just isn’t the case," said Bauer. "Foxconn can help us change that misperception by highlighting the diversity of jobs we have in technology, manufacturing, healthcare, bio tech, education and the professional trades, just to name a few."

If Allen's proposed legislation gains sponsorship, by 2020 people in surrounding states "will be stretching their necks to see the fantastic new license plate on the road and they will think to themselves, 'Wisconsin, hmm, I've got to check that place out'," he added in his memo.