Wisconsin’s economic recovery has begun

    A look back at the cover stories of BizTimes Milwaukee magazine over the past year reveals the most important issues of the day, including the impact of the Great Recession, the federal stimulus, bankruptcy survival, health care reform, the H1N1 virus and the emergence of social media.
    What will be the most important stories of 2010? Here’s an educated guess about the top one: Wisconsin’s economic recovery.

    The recovery has begun and will pick up steam in 2010. It won’t come easily, and it won’t come quickly, but we’re seeing some very promising trends: In recent polls, 86 percent of BizTimes.com readers say their company will either add jobs or at least maintain the status quo in 2010, and 76 percent say they are optimistic about how their company will do in 2010.

    The number of first-time unemployment claims in the state is falling. The number of company job layoff notices filed with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is falling. The BizTimes Stock Index of local stocks recently soared to a 52-week high.

    Expect the fourth quarter national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to show continued improvement.

    Looking back at early 2009, it was all we could do to keep up with the plant closures and the mass layoffs cascading throughout the state. The recession closed the General Motors Corp. plant in Janesville and the Chrysler plant in Kenosha in its wake.

    Lately, however, Wisconsin has been winning more than it has been losing on the jobs front. The state has been stringing together these victories like pearls on a necklace in recent months:

    • Mercury Marine decided to keep 850 jobs and move several hundred more to Fond du Lac.
    • Republic Airways Holdings Inc., the new parent company of Midwest Airlines, will save 800 jobs in Oak Creek and move 800 new jobs to the region in 2010.
    • AirTran Airways will expand its Milwaukee hub by adding at least 50 more pilots and 50 more flight attendants.
    • At least eight biotech companies are moving to Wisconsin from Minnesota and other states (Biotechnology is the fastest-growing segment of Wisconsin’s economy, where it is an $8.7 billion industry with 400 companies and 34,000 employees).
    • Uline Inc. of Waukegan, Ill., will move across the Wisconsin border to its new headquarters in Pleasant Prairie in 2010, bringing 1,000 jobs.
    • Exacto Inc. has moved its headquarters from Illinois to Walworth County.
    • North Chicago, Ill.-based EMCO Chemical Distributors Inc. plans to move to Wisconsin, bringing up to 125 new jobs to Pleasant Prairie.
    • Bucyrus International Inc. will bring 400 to 500 new jobs to metro Milwaukee after it acquires Terex Corp.
    • Telkonet Inc. is moving its headquarters and 50 jobs from Maryland  to the Milwaukee County Research Park in Wauwatosa.
    • Helios USA, a startup solar panel manufacturer. plans to open a new plant in Milwaukee in 2010.
    • Dickten Masch Plastics LLC in Nashotah will receive $293,000 in Economic Development Tax Credits from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce for an expansion project that will create 75 jobs and retain 160 existing jobs in Waukesha County.


    The tide is turning for the better in the Badger State.

    To be sure, we have our problems, including a $2.71 billion state budget deficit and a dysfunctional Milwaukee Public Schools system that reflects our society’s most disheartening shortcomings. The commercial real estate market for new development is flat, and some of our banks are not exactly on firm financial ground.

    And because employment is a lagging indicator, it may take a few more months before we see a complete reversal out the Great Recession.

    But the recession is over, and the future is looking brighter. Look for employment gains in the health care, technology, government and green sectors. And if Milwaukee can marshal its act together, with the help of cheerleaders such as Badger Meter Inc. chief executive officer Rich Meeusen leading the way, it can begin to transform itself as a fresh water technology hub that will add further fuel to its economic fire.

    For a complete forecast about the year ahead in business, we invite you to attend the Northern Trust Economic Trends Breakfast on Friday, Jan. 22, at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee. Stellar panelists will provide their insights. Register to attend the event at www.biztimes.com/trends.


    Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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