Waukesha County 2025

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

Growing up in Brookfield in the 1960s and 70s, I easily recall the transformation of Waukesha County from a quiet farming community into the economic juggernaut it is today. We were blessed with forward-thinking leadership, geographic good luck and benefited from having an interstate running though our backyard. Those ingredients formed the framework for a successful suburban expansion.
I have been asked by Small Business Times to think about what Waukesha County will look like 20 years from now. The answer is, it depends.
Waukesha County is part of an economic region that extends from Chicago to Minneapolis. We will depend on cooperation with Milwaukee for water and research assets, and they will depend on us for capital.
The Midwest region is changing rapidly, and Wisconsin must lead the way. We must cap the growth of government, pass regulatory relief, support venture capital formation, eliminate the death tax, support the adoption of broadband technology, link our colleges and universities with the business community, rebuild the Marquette and Zoo interchanges, support high-speed rail, reform K-12 education and create a construct for regional cooperation.
The vision
Let me take a moment to describe what southeastern Wisconsin and Waukesha County will be like if we are successful:
In 2025, our education system remains a leader in the nation. Student achievement has surpassed teacher salaries and benefits in terms of priorities for school districts. School districts have used the high-tech assets to create cooperatives statewide. Wisconsin students are now able to take on-line courses in every school district, in a real-time virtual school format, where they can interact easily with their classmates and instructors. Districts realize a cost savings, and students are more prepared than ever to be the next generation of business leaders in this state.
Students in Milwaukee have flourished through choice and charter schools. The generation of students today are the leaders of the Milwaukee area and are promoting family values, educational excellence and continued economic growth. Milwaukee is no longer drawing on the growth of capital in Waukesha, but actually contributing to the regional economy in a positive way.
The University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Technical College systems have been restructured to the point that they are streamlined and efficient. They have continued to work with businesses to help facilitate new ideas, and in turn more jobs are being created in Wisconsin.
The Biomedical Technology Alliance (BTA) has grown to the point where it has spun off numerous multi-million dollar companies, which have raised the standard of living in the metro area. The BTA has also proved to be a model for other universities across the country.
In 2025, we live in an innovation-based economy. Manufacturers, which have prospered, have found that they can ensure their place in the supply-chain with their ability to change and adapt. Their products add value, either as raw materials or as finished goods. Intellectual property, like special metal formulas or specialized manufacturing processes, is fused with their products.
Worker productivity has skyrocketed with the adoption of technologies like wireless broadband and the first wave of nanotechnology applications.
Envision a typical day
In 2025, there are no multiple phone numbers or devices, simply one tool that continuously is actively receiving information – phone calls, e-mail, news updates, scheduling changes – all on the fly. There is a "cloud" of high-speed broadband service surrounding us, even while we are traveling 65 mph on the interstate.
People under 40 most likely work for a start-up or a small company under 5 years old. Because we finally developed a robust venture capital network, our educational institutions (like WARF at UW-Madison) stopped looking 1,000 miles away for capital and decided to keep our companies and people in Wisconsin – not San Diego.
Conversely, investors have waken up to the fact that there is no need for a direct flight from Milwaukee to Madison. Ideas and talented people matter most and they are right here at home.
These new companies have leveraged those people and their intellectual property into companies that create new markets, not just new products. We now have close to a generation of people who have managed a start-up from an idea to a cash event. We are attracting talent, not exporting it. Our demographic nightmare, more people retiring than entering the workforce, is reversing itself.
In the next 25 years, agriculture and tourism are robust in Waukesha County and in Wisconsin. Research science and health management have contributed to next-generation foods and manufacturing processes that allow even higher food quality. Families and tourists from around the world continue to visit and spend money in Wisconsin. Many visitors wish to someday relocate and retire in the beautiful rolling hills, streams and woods of Wisconsin. The people of Waukesha County, who are well-known for their generosity and hospitality, are still as warm and as inviting as ever.
Preventative care programs and health savings accounts have shifted the focus of health management from the health care provider (which will become an oxymoron) to the individual as their own primary health care provider. Families are healthier. People still work a lot, but their personal lives are more balanced, because three generations now live in Wisconsin, thanks to a tax climate that has allowed it to happen.
Grandma and grandpa are now there to help out and watch their grandchildren grow up.
Need leadership today
It would seem this dream has no impediment from becoming a reality, that smart people will win and Wisconsin wins for keeping them here. But, it will take hard work and tremendous energy.
Cooperation and consolidation efforts are difficult processes, but they are essential for local governments to keep the overall costs down. We must have incentives for growth in our communities, and reward those that have responded with positive growth.
If we fail, Waukesha County shrivels like a grape in the sun as other states take away our most valuable asset, our smart people. If we continue with high taxes, companies will leave. If we create a more intrusive government, companies leave. And if the companies leave, the smart people will follow.
We need strong leadership right now. We cannot afford to be lulled into the dreamlike state of accepting the status quo. Our leadership must help make this vision of our future a reality. We must make the right choices now on issues like energy production and consumption, fresh water resources and its use, taxation and its effects on commerce, and technology and its far reaching benefits and hazards.
It is hard for some people to try to envision a world, an economy or a county five years from now, let alone a quarter of a century later, but we must do it. We must set our goals high and work hard every day to attain them.
Twenty-five years from now, the complacent will be sitting in the same chair they are in today reading a newspaper about what other people are doing. Our county needs to be the one in the headlines, and we must start today.

Ted Kanavas is a Republican Wisconsin state senator representing the 33rd district. He resides in Brookfield.

June 24, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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