During 2009-16, Wisconsin’s economy generated more than 180,000 jobs, a 7% increase. That average
masks economic weakness in several isolated parts of the state, particularly northern and central
Wisconsin. Demographic trends indicate this will likely continue, while urban and suburban counties
with access to major highways, university campuses, and high-speed Internet will flourish.
When politicians or the press talk about the Wisconsin economy, attention inevitably focuses on statewide job growth and comparisons with other states and the nation. The state’s economic health is an important concern but so is the variability in economic performance where it matters most—“on the ground,” in individual counties or regions.
More than 180,000 jobs were added statewide during 2009-16, a 7% increase compared to about 10% nationally. However, if residents of adjoining Buffalo and Trempealeau counties are asked about the post-recession economy, answers would likely differ. Employment is up 13% in Trempealeau since 2009 but down by double digits in Buffalo.
The reality is that, in some parts of the state, jobs are growing, unemployment is falling, and home prices are rebounding from pre-recession levels. In others, employment growth and home values continue to lag, and unemployment remains above average.
This pattern of continued variability by county and region is likely to continue. Counties that performed poorly during past years often do not have enough young people to replace retiring baby boomers in the years ahead. Without a growing labor pool, job creation will continue to lag in these areas.