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May 21, 201912:10 PMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

Rural and urban economies can improve with cooperation

(page 1 of 2)

With the city of Madison and its metropolitan area popping up consistently in national rankings on economic vitality, many people would assume all is well in the seven other counties that make up the Madison Region Economic Partnership.

Don’t assume too much.

Data revealed Thursday at MadREP’s “State of the Madison Region Economy” event highlighted significant challenges facing the seven counties outside Dane, while also breaking down research reports on the region’s target economic sectors: agriculture, food, and beverage; advanced manufacturing; health care; information communications technology; and bioscience.

The findings included lessons that shouldn’t be lost on the rest of Wisconsin.

“Our rural areas are significantly underperforming compared to Dane County,” said MadREP President Paul Jadin, who presented the region’s next five-year economic development strategy.

There are many reasons for that, not the least of which is the lack of robust broadband connections in parts of those counties, a farm economy that is suffering in some sectors, and a mix of opportunity and social factors that have contributed to rural out-migration in America for a century or more.

The MadREP example is instructive, however, because it shows that prosperity in a region doesn’t necessarily improve at the same pace as the nearest large city — unless there is a regional approach to solving common problems.

William Fruth, president at POLICOM Corp., is an economist who has studied regional clusters of activity. He has ranked the Madison metropolitan statistical area among the top dozen or so nationally when it comes to economic vitality. However, as Fruth told the MadREP group, it’s a different picture when the larger region is included.

The broader Madison region ranked in the bottom quartile when compared to similar regions surrounding Ann Arbor, Austin, Boulder, Columbus, Indianapolis, Lincoln, Portland, Raleigh, and Salt Lake City. The question is why job growth is strong in Dane County but flat to even declining in some of the seven adjacent counties: Columbia, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Rock, and Sauk.

Jadin noted that parts of the MadREP region are “broadband deserts,” meaning slower or even non-existent connections to the internet are holding back economic progress. “It’s not just a problem in northern Wisconsin,” he said.

Daily migration data reveals that roughly 50,000 people per day are commuting to Dane County from those seven counties, and that 42,000 per day are moving in the opposite direction. Another 46,000 people are commuting each day to Dane County from the rest of the state’s counties, which illustrates that people recognize opportunity when they see it.

(Continued)

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About This Blog

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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