Wisconsin Economic Overview
Wisconsin is home to approximately 5.6 million residents, who earn an average per capita personal income of about $35,000. Manufacturing, agriculture (particularly milk, cheese, and butter), tourism, and health care are the leading industries in the state, contributing to the gross state product of $240.4 billion. Much of the manufacturing sector is concentrated in the southeastern part of the state, and includes the largest city, Milwaukee, while the soil and climate of the southern region of the state is suitable for dairy farming. Wisconsin’s northern forests attract tourists and provide timber for the paper and pulp industry.
Permanent settlement of the territory that eventually became the state of Wisconsin began with military forts established to protect the routes of fur traders following the War of 1812. Settlers began clearing the land for farms, building houses, and cutting timber. More than 4,000 people were working as lead miners by 1829, and subsequent immigration increased the state’s population to 300,000 by 1850.
German immigrants brought the art of beer brewing with them to the state in the 1830s, and the city of Milwaukee became known as the Beer Capital of the World by the end of the 19th century. In the 1870s, Wisconsin’s vast timberland began to be exploited commercially, and the 1880s saw the rise of the iron mining industry, followed by the start of the dairy industry.
After World War I, manufacturing in the state increased, with a variety of durable goods sold throughout the country. By the 1920s, Wisconsin was the country’s leading producer of cheese, and has ranked as a leading producer of milk ever since. During the Great Depression, many Wisconsin factories were forced to close, and many banks in the state failed as well. The New Deal saw 92,000 men in Wisconsin working on conservation projects such as erosion control, trail building, and tree planting in the Civilian Conservation Corps.
When the U.S. entered World War II, jobs in wartime industries became available. In the 1950s, tourism became popular, meatpacking and the manufacturing of heavy machinery increased, as the population shifted from a rural to an urban society. Roughly 66 percent of the population lived in cities by 1980. The economy today is fairly well diversified, with manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism as leading contributors.
Nearly 90 percent of the 78,000 farms in the state are owned by families or individuals. Wisconsin’s agricultural industry adds $8.9 billion to the gross state product, with crops accounting for $2.6 billion and livestock and their products adding $6.3 billion. Dairy products account for the biggest portion of revenue, at $4.5 billion, as the state ranks second in the country for dairy production.
About 70 percent of Wisconsin’s milk is made into cheese, accounting for a sixth of all U.S. cheese. Cattle and calves account for $1 billion, and poultry and eggs add $375 million. Top crops produced in the state include corn for grain, at $1.3 billion, hay, at $521 million, and soybeans, at $511 million. Wisconsin is also the number one producer of mink in the country, manufacturing 33 percent of all pelts. Some 71 mink ranches operate in the state, worth a total of $116 million in 2009.
BANKING AND FINANCE
Wisconsin has slightly fewer than 300 banks and savings institutions and 250 credit unions. A total of approximately 219,000 people work in the banking and financial services sector, which has total assets of $154 billion.
Wisconsin has 91 newspapers, 34 television stations, and 341 radio stations. The 573 companies that operate in the broadcasting industry have total estimated annual sales of $903.6 million and provide jobs for more than 9,000 people. A total of 19 telephone companies and cooperatives operate in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin construction industry employs around 102,000 workers, a drop of more than 27,000 since its peak in February 2006. Nonresidential construction spending was $11 billion in 2007 and contributed a total of $25 billion to the gross state product. The average annual wage for construction workers in the state is $47,600, which is 26 percent more than what is usually paid by private sector employers. Most (93 percent) of Wisconsin’s 17,000 construction companies employ fewer than 20 workers.
Wisconsin has more than 875,000 students enrolled in 2,300 public elementary and secondary schools at an annual expenditure of $11,400 per child. The Milwaukee public school system is the fourth largest employer in the state. The University of Wisconsin system is the second largest employer in the state, with more than 28,500 faculty and staff members and more than 173,000 students enrolled. It is one of the largest public systems for higher education in the U.S. Marquette University, with more than 11,500 students, 730 faculty members, and an endowment of $357.3 million, is the largest private university in Wisconsin. There are more than 343,700 students enrolled in Wisconsin’s 73 colleges and universities.
Some 70 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity is generated from coal. Nuclear energy from plants on the shores of Lake Michigan supply 15 percent, followed by natural gas at nine percent, petroleum and hydroelectric sources from Wisconsin’s rivers at two percent each, and renewable energy at one percent. Industry consumes the most energy, followed by transportation. Wisconsin’s large production of corn supplies ethanol plants in the central and southern areas of the state. The state’s "25 by 25" plan calls for Wisconsin to generate 25 percent of its electricity and transportation fuel from renewable sources by 2025.
The first movie filmed in Wisconsin was produced in 1916. Wisconsin attracts production companies with incentives, like many other states. There are nearly 500 motion picture and video companies employing more than 13,000 workers in Wisconsin. Milwaukee’s Summerfest, an 11-day music festival, is the largest in the country, drawing around 2,500 performers and some one million concertgoers each year.
There are approximately 5,600 insurance agencies and brokerages operating in Wisconsin, with roughly 269,000 employees. The property-casualty sector employs around 18,700 people, with a total annual payroll of $1.1 billion. State premium taxes from this sector total $172.1 million annually, and the property-casualty insurers each year pay out some $1.5 billion to cover car owners’ losses, $702.1 million to cover homeowners’ losses, and $2.8 billion to cover business owners’ losses.
Twelve thousand manufacturers operate in Wisconsin with a workforce of more than 600,000 employees. The industrial machinery and equipment sector employs nearly 106,000 people, followed by fabricated metal products, with 67,000 employees, and food products manufacturing, with 66,000 jobs. The most important food manufacturer operating in Wisconsin is Kraft Foods.
Wisconsin leads the country in papermaking, with 5.3 million tons of paper and more than 1.1 million tons of paperboard manufactured annually with a value of $12.4 billion. Some 40,000 people are employed in this sector, at a total annual payroll of $2.55 billion. Harley-Davidson is headquartered in Milwaukee, where it first started manufacturing motorcycles in 1903. The company employs 9,700 workers and had 2009 revenue of $4.29 billion.
MINING AND EXTRACTION
Wisconsin is home to a total of 610 mining operations, which provide employment to 4,500 people. The average mining wage is $49,000 per year, for a total annual payroll of $220 million. A total of $560 million worth of minerals, metals, and fuel products is mined in the state. Cement, gravel, limestone, and sand are the most common nonmetallic minerals mined in Wisconsin.
Nearly 40,000 nonprofit organizations operate in Wisconsin. The largest subsector is charitable organizations, followed by educational organizations, and religious organizations. Other nonprofit organizations include social welfare organizations, recreational clubs, and organizations of war veterans. The total assets reported by the organizations are $100 billion, and total income is $55 billion. The average asset amount reported is $6.3 million, and the average income is $3.5 million.
There are around 42,000 retail establishments doing business in the state, but Walmart dwarfs all the competition. It is the largest employer in Wisconsin, with more than 29,000 workers at its 61 supercenters and 22 discount stores. The average full-time hourly wage for a Walmart employee is $11.86. In 2009, Walmart spent more than $4.47 billion for goods and services from more than 1,500 suppliers in Wisconsin. The company pays around $198 million in state sales tax and pays more than $46 million in state corporate income tax annually.
Some 85,000 employees work in Wisconsin's high-tech industry, at an average annual salary of $63,000 and a total annual payroll of $5.4 billion. Wisconsin’s 200-plus software publishers employ about 6,000 workers at an average annual wage of $78,000 for a total annual payroll of $470 million. Wisconsin's more than 50 research and development laboratories employ roughly 1,700 workers, while another 80 testing laboratories employ some 1,000 people.
Some of Wisconsin’s fastest-growing industries are in the biotechnology and medical imaging sectors, and Wisconsin invests in technology and research through various programs, incentives, and initiatives. Wisconsin’s 600-plus biotechnology companies employ 20,000 workers. Some 2,400 biotech-related patents have been issued to Wisconsin companies and R&D institutions, and around $50 million is invested annually in the biotech sector of the state.
Two interstate highways cross Wisconsin, and the state has some 14,000 miles (22,530 km) of highways. Buses and shared-ride taxi services make up Wisconsin’s public transit system, providing more than 76 million rides annually. There are 130 general aviation airports and eight commercial airports in the state, which handle more than 122,000 tons of cargo annually. General Mitchell International Airport, a medium-hub airport in Milwaukee, is the largest airport in Wisconsin. Its 14 airlines provide about 230 daily arrivals and departures serving some 90 cities. More than 420,000 Amtrak passengers travel annually on Wisconsin’s 4,200 miles (6,760 km) of track, and almost 40 million tons (36 million metric tons) of cargo worth around $7 billion pass through Wisconsin’s 15 commercial ports.
TRAVEL AND TOURISM
Tourism is Wisconsin’s third-largest industry. Wisconsin Dells is the most visited vacation site—2.9 million visitors spend about $1 billion there each year. The site contains theme parks including Noah’s Ark (reportedly the largest water park in the country), stores, hotels, and campgrounds. The House on the Rock, a house built on top of a 60-foot high column of rock that contains the largest indoor carousel in the world, is also a popular tourist attraction. In addition, residents and tourists, especially fishermen, enjoy the 7,446 streams and rivers that flow through Wisconsin. The tourist industry employs more than 300,000 workers at a combined annual payroll of some $7 billion. Tourists spend about $12.8 billion each year in the state, generating about $2 billion in local and state taxes.
Wisconsin’s dairy industry has put its imprint on the entire state, which is known as America’s Dairyland. Every year an Alice in Dairyland is chosen to explain the importance of the state’s agriculture at public venues ranging from 4th grade classes in Wisconsin’s schools to Japanese factories. Wisconsin’s "ambassador of agriculture" for a year gets more than a million dollars worth of free advertising for the state’s agriculture industry, as well as a $40,000 salary for the year and travel expenses.
-World Trade Press