Wisconsin’s economy is around the middle of the pack among all U.S. states, but Madison’s economy is one of the best in the nation, economists told a gathering of bankers on Monday.
The comments came at the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s Wisconsin Economic Forecast luncheon.
Augustine Faucher, chief economist for The PNC Financial Services Group, said the recession hit the Upper Midwest hard about a decade ago, but “in general, conditions are pretty solid now.”
Wisconsin’s recovery, though, “has lagged well behind the rest of the country,” Faucher said.
Slow growth in the state’s population is a “big, long-run concern for Wisconsin,” he said, adding that the state is “way below” the national average.
U.S. Census Bureau figures show Wisconsin’s estimated population was 5,795,483 as of July 1, 2017, up 1.9 percent from 2010.
Nationwide, population grew 5.5 percent over that time period, the Census Bureau reports.
William Fruth, president of Policom Corp., an economics research firm in Palm City, Florida, was more positive about Wisconsin, and particularly about Madison, in his address to the bankers.
Fruth said Wisconsin was No. 42 among the 50 states in terms of job growth from 2007 to 2016, but it ranked 18th-highest in annual wage growth over that time period.
“Quality (jobs) can be as important as the size of the economy,” Fruth said. “To say any new job will help the economy — that is not true.”
Fruth said Texas is tops in the nation in creating high-quality jobs over the past 30 years.
Of the nation’s metropolitan areas, Policom rates Austin, Texas, as No. 1 in economic strength, followed by Napa, California, and Seattle, Washington.
Madison is ranked No. 13. Among other Wisconsin metro areas, Green Bay is No. 51 and Milwaukee is No. 71.
Policom judges economic strength based on jobs, wages and continuity of growth.
Wisconsin also has three cities on Policom’s list of micropolitan areas, defined as those with populations of between 10,000 and 50,000. Baraboo is No. 15, Whitewater is No. 30 and Stevens Point is No. 38.
From 2010 to 2016, wages in Madison rose from about 90 percent of the average national wage to about 96 percent, Fruth said. “To move a percentage (point) is a big deal,” he said.
In Janesville, hit hard by the closing of the General Motors assembly plant in 2009, “the bleeding has stopped,” Fruth said. Over the past four or five years, Janesville has been “coming out of the economic morass,” he said.
Fruth said Wisconsin has done “a wonderful job” of retaining its existing businesses but added, “You’re not the best state ... for new companies to move to.” Companies already operating in a community are more important than those targeted for relocation, he said.
And while Madison often touts its quality of life in efforts to draw new companies, Fruth said that is not the main reason a business decides where to locate. The principal reason, he said, “is because it will be profitable for the company.”
More than 400 people attended the bankers’ luncheon at the Alliant Energy Center.