In southcentral Wisconsin, local districts pay close attention to creating sustainable communities, attracting innovation and training a strong workforce. It’s no wonder the region boasts high rankings on lists developed by Forbes, MSN Money and U.S. News & World Report.
MadREP (Madison Region Economic Partnership), the economic development agency for the eight-county region surrounding Madison, is entering the third of its five-year Advance Now Strategy, an economic development plan for the southcentral region. Its focus is on six key pillar industries: manufacturing, life sciences, food and beverage, health care, agriculture and information technology.
While the attention is always on economic competitiveness, innovation and leveraging human capital in these segments, MadREP President Paul Jadin explained the concentration of efforts is currently on information technology.
“Our region is diverse enough that we have high-quality advanced manufacturing, we have an abundance of agriculture, and the health care segment is robust,” Jadin said. “But IT is an area where we’re seeing both new businesses and new jobs being created.”
“(IT) is one of those areas that we’re talked about in the same breath as Boston, San Francisco, and Portland,” Jadin said. “We’re working hard to send the message that this is the place people need to be to launch their product or get a job in information technology.”
While the area’s anchors remain the UW-Madison, state government and powerhouse companies such as Epic Systems, these organizations also provide some of the intellectual capital that drives the entrepreneurial spirit of southcentral Wisconsin and attracts pioneering companies to expand into the region.
Innovative spaces can be found all around the region; spaces that are specifically designed to incubate start-up ventures and foster collaboration, community, and creative problem-solving. Groups such as 100State, Sector67 and gener8tor have gained momentum and are on track to make the region a hotspot for technology and entrepreneurship. StartingBlock Madison, an organization dedicated to creating an “entrepreneurial hub” with a planned 50,000 square-foot facility dedicated to increasing the number of successful startups, has both the backing of local officials and the support of large companies like American Family Insurance, whose Ventures division has pledged financial support.
The local business community is also responding. In 2014, Zach Brandon, executive director of the Madison Chamber of Commerce, replaced the Chamber’s traditional trade show and expo with neXXpo – an event intended to be a public testament to where the region is headed in terms of technology, recruiting talent, sustainability and startups. While the move away from the conventional expo spurred some controversy, Brandon was adamant about only showcasing forward-focused products and services. Companies had to apply to exhibit, and those who participated were presenting alongside tech giants like Microsoft and Google, which were also involved in the inaugural event.
“If the goal is to highlight ourselves as a ‘future city,’ how do we do that? A traditional expo can look good on its face with lots of exhibitors, but does it really move the needle forward?” Brandon said. “You have to identify where we’re headed and where we’re going next. We can’t focus on what’s going on now; we have to focus on what’s coming.”
Another focus area for MadREP centers around workforce development. But even with capacity concerns for filling the pipeline of the workforce – especially in advanced manufacturing and health care in more rural districts – MadREP is working to get ahead of the curve in order to continue building on its ability to attract and retain new business.
“We need to be able to identify the needs and guarantee we’re training young people to fill them,” Jadin said.
Each community within the region works to define the needs of its local private sector in order to provide support in finding, training and retaining a skilled workforce. In a conversation about a workforce development program planned for his city, Neil Stechschulte, director of economic development for the City of Sun Prairie, agreed.
“We need to get creative for workforce development, especially for companies in advance manufacturing in our region,” Stechschulte said.
Sun Prairie, he said, has been developing cross-platform communication plans that would help connect employers and potential employees, including videos and social media, employer open houses and print advertising.
MadREP offers an interactive dashboard on its website that highlights some of the workforce development data, along with several other economic indicators. Users have access to detailed information on the Madison Region and how it compares to peer communities, the state, and the nation, and can view data at a county-specific level.
Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP)
615 E. Washington Avenue
Madison, WI 53701-0071
Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) is the lead economic development agency for the eight-county Madison region. MadREP’s work is defined by the Advance Now Strategy, the Madison Region’s comprehensive economic development strategy for the years 2013-2017. The Advance Now strategy is a five-plank platform, which includes economic competitiveness, innovation and entrepreneurship, human capital, the Madison region’s story, and regional cooperation, leadership and diversity.
University of Wisconsin-Madison, UW Health, Epic Systems Corp, American Family Insurance, Kraft Foods, Lands’ End, John Deere & Co, Divine Savior Healthcare, Colony Brands, Inc., Trek Bicycle Corp. Ho-Chunk Nation, Associated Milk Producers, Inc., Monroe Clinic, Fort Healthcare, Generac Power Systems, Inc., Mercy Health System, Beloit Health Systems, Kalahari Development
Population: 1 million
Major Airports: Dane County Regional Airport
College and Universities:
Beloit College, Blackhawk Technical College, Edgewood College, Herzing University, ITT Technical Institute-Madison, Madison Area Technical College, Madison Media Institute, University of Phoenix-Madison Campus, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Health care, agriculture, advanced manufacturing, education, life sciences, information technology, government, food and beverage