Metro Milwaukee Innovation DataTool 2023

Key Findings

Our Metro Milwaukee Innovation DataTool tracks the region’s performance over the last decade and in relation to national peers on 17 indicators tied to innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. Below, we highlight several key findings from our 2023 DataTool update. Most of metro Milwaukee’s clearest strengths and weaknesses are longstanding, but they are important to highlight and we also find several striking areas where the region has improved or declined. We hope these findings help economic development leaders and the broader community understand how the metro area is progressing and set priorities for future advancement.


Metro Milwaukee is competitive with its national peers on a number of economic indicators, including several pertaining to regional talent. Those include gradually improving educational attainment and a strong supply of workers in occupations associated with innovation.

Educational Attainment

Educational attainment in metro Milwaukee is slowly but steadily increasing. The share of the region’s adults (ages 25 and over) with bachelor’s or advanced degrees increased by 6.8 percentage points between 2012 and 2022, which outpaced six of the 10 comparison metro areas included in our DataTool. In 2022, 39.3% of metro Milwaukee adults had a bachelor’s or advanced degree, which was higher than more than half of the comparison metros and above the U.S. average.

Scientists and Engineers

Scientists and engineers help to drive innovation through research and development activities. In 2022, metro Milwaukee had a higher concentration of scientists and engineers than all but two of our comparison metros, and its ratio also exceeded the national average. Industrial and mechanical engineers are particularly concentrated in the area.

This is a long-term strength of metro Milwaukee. The region ranked fourth among the 11 comparison metros in 2018 and has ranked third ever since.

Technology Talent

Technology workers also are key drivers of innovation in an increasingly digital economy. In 2022, metro Milwaukee outperformed six of our 10 comparison metros in its concentration of employment in 19 occupations defined as part of the tech workforce by CompTIA in its national Cyberstates report, which also slightly exceeded the U.S. average. Over 6,500 software engineers are employed in metro Milwaukee, making it the most common occupation among area tech workers.

Knowledge Workers

Metro Milwaukee also performs relatively well in its concentration of knowledge workers, which are defined as those employed in any occupation that typically requires at least a bachelor’s degree. In 2022, the region ranked fifth among the 11 comparison metros and above the national average on this indicator, though notably, this was a slight decline from 2021 and 2022, when metro Milwaukee ranked fourth.


On a number of other measures, metro Milwaukee struggles to keep up with its national peers, and on some metrics the region has actually declined in its rank among our comparison metros. These findings show areas where improvement is possible and may be needed for metro Milwaukee to compete nationally.

Venture Capital Funding

One of metro Milwaukee’s long-standing weaknesses is venture capital (VC) investing, which typically supports startup companies with strong potential for growth. While VC investing is highly concentrated in a small number of metro areas on the west and east coasts, metro Milwaukee trails even most of its Midwestern peers and has been near the bottom on this indicator for many years.

On a per-capita basis, metro Milwaukee attracted considerably less in venture capital (VC) investment in 2022 than all but one of the comparison metros. That was despite the region seeing its greatest VC investment total ($104 million) that year in data going back to 2014. Between 2020 and 2022, the average size of VC deals in metro Milwaukee ($2.4 million) was the smallest among the comparison metros.


Until recently, metro Milwaukee was competitive with its peers in its per-employee gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the value of all finished goods and services produced within an area. The region’s productivity has slid, however, and in 2021 it ranked last among the 11 comparison metros on this indicator. Additionally, metro Milwaukee’s GDP increased at the slowest pace among the comparison metros between 2011 and 2021.

It is important to note that the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis relies heavily on employee compensation and tax receipts to estimate GDP at the state and local levels and may not be precise. Wisconsin also ranked last in 2021 in GDP per employee when compared with the states in which our peer metros are located.


Job creation is one of the primary goals of economic development efforts. After growing jobs slowly but steadily from 2010 to 2019, metro Milwaukee lost almost all of those gains in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on public health and the economy. The region has since recovered somewhat, but total employment in 2022 remained below 2015 levels. Job recovery has been much stronger nationally, with total employment in the U.S. reaching a new peak in 2022.

Metro Milwaukee also is in the bottom tier among our comparison metros in employment growth since 2012 and added jobs at a far slower pace than the national average during that decade.


Along with creating jobs, the ultimate goal of economic development efforts is to increase prosperity by raising the incomes of area residents. While the median income of metro Milwaukee households remains competitive with its peers, it grew at the slowest pace among our 11 comparison metros between 2012 and 2022 and was lower than the national average in 2022. Troublingly, metro Milwaukee’s inflation-adjusted median household income in 2022 was about the same as in 2016.