Which southeast Wisconsin county’s economy was hardest hit in 2020?

The Milwaukee skyline is visible from the corner of Fond du Lac Avenue and Country Aire Drive on the east side of Germantown.
The Milwaukee skyline is visible from the corner of Fond du Lac Avenue and Country Aire Drive on the east side of Germantown.

The real gross domestic product of metro Milwaukee declined 5% from 2019 to 2020, the 78th largest decline out of 384 metro areas in the country, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Adjusted for inflation, the decline was enough to take the metro area’s economy back to its lowest level since 2014.

By comparison, the Madison metro area saw a 2.6% decline in GDP and Green Bay was down 5.1%. The state as a whole saw a 4% drop.

Metro Milwaukee’s manufacturing sector, which accounts for 16.7% of the region’s GDP, saw a 5.8% decline during the year, including an 8.3% drop in durable goods manufacturing and a 0.3% decline in nondurable goods.

Professional and business services, which accounts for 14.6% of the region’s economy saw a 5.2% decline. Finance and insurance, which accounts for 9.1% of the region’s economy, saw a 2.1% dip.

The arts, entertainment, accommodation and food service sector, which accounts for just 2.3% of the region’s GDP, saw a 29.7% decline. Arts and entertainment, specifically, was off 36% while accommodation and food service was off 27%.

For finance and insurance, it was the lowest level since 2014 and professional and business service hit its lowest level since 2017. While manufacturing hit its lowest level since 2010, there is no lower level for arts and entertainment or accommodation in data that goes back to 2001.

Milwaukee County’s economy was hardest hit in the region with a 5.5% decline. Among other metro counties, Waukesha saw a 4.7% decline, Ozaukee County was down 3.9%, and Washington County declined 3.3%

The best performing county in southeastern Wisconsin was Kenosha with only a 0.7% decline. Walworth was off 2.9%, Racine dropped 3.4% and Sheboygan was down 3.5%.

Just seven counties in Wisconsin saw an increase in real GDP in 2020, led by Buffalo, up 7.4%, Pepin, up 4.6%, and Lafayette, up 4.4%.

Four counties – Menominee, Sauk, Florence and Kewaunee – saw double-digit percentage decreases, led by Kewaunee, down 12.6%.

Dane County was off 2.7% and Brown was off 4.7%.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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