What's the Status?

How the recent economic ups and downs at the state and national levels affect the business climate in the Madison area

Fiscally speaking, a lot appeared to be up in the air in 2012 and early 2013, from the presidential election, to the fiscal cliff, to the debt ceiling, to the sequester—and these were just the worries from Washington. Over on Wall Street, we heard seemingly good news in March when the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 closed at record highs, yet economists told us to hold the applause. Closer to home, Wisconsin’s job numbers looked positive compared to the national average (Madison’s were even better), but then the the Dairy State ranked forty-fourth in private-sector job creation. A closer look at some of these numbers, coupled with anecdotal evidence, sheds a bit more light on how the broader economy looks and how it can impact a local business. 


January 2013 | National: 7.9%   Wisconsin: 7%    Madison: 5.8%*

January 2012 | National: 8.3%   Wisconsin: 7%    Madison: 5.4%

Net change      | National: - 0.4%   Wisconsin: 0%   Madison: 0.4%

The Good: Madison’s unemployment rate is lower than the state and national rates.
The Bad: Madison’s rate increased in 2013, while the state didn’t change and the national average decreased.

*Not seasonally adjusted.


January 2013 | Wisconsin: 2,797,800     Madison: 346,500

January 2012 | Wisconsin: 2,763,100     Madison: 344,900 

Net change      | Wisconsin: 34,700            Madison: 1,600

DATA: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. January numbers were used for the national, state and city figures as that was the most current month available for city-level data at press time. Visit bls.gov for current data for all levels. 


Wisconsin’s rank (out of 50) for private-sector job creation from September 2011 to September 2012, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which was released in late March. 

Local Perspective

Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce president Zach Brandon sums up the local business climate as “some growth with some caveats,” which tracks with the cautious optimism buzz heard around the country.  According to Brandon, two federal factors can affect local businesses. Health Care: “Many companies are still waiting for the rules to come out—now it’s just a question about predictability around those rules … Once that’s cleared up hopefully we’ll see a bounce in employment.” Sequester:  “There was some initial concern about the sequestration and what that would mean for business, with continued worry about how the university would be hit.” 

Sound Off

Local business pros share what’s going on in 2013 and how, if at all, they use economic reports in their decision-making 

Preston Austin
Co-founder of Murfie

Important in 2013: Madison’s reputation as an attractive place for tech
“Madison’s profile as a place to work is substantially improving … Madison is becoming a cooler town for people to be in for our kind of business.”

Worried about the “numbers”?
“In terms of hiring, we’re doing our thing no matter what … I don’t spend time wondering what’s the overall unemployment, or if brain drain is a problem at UW.”

Rob Gottschalk
Principal at Vandewalle & Associates

Important in 2013: The Capitol East development on East Washington Avenue 
“A lot of the difficult conversations and decisions that were made around land-use and intensity are all done, so people are just anxious to see change in an area that was once our vibrant employment center.”

Worried about the “numbers”?
“The numbers and trends are helpful as a baseline, but our work is future-based.”

Nick Quint
Founder & owner of Yahara Bay Distillers

Important in 2013: Post-recession strategy
“We’re finding ways that we can partner with other business to keep money in Dane County.”

Worried about the “numbers”?
“At first I had to put blinders on. We just surged forward, and kind of ignored all that ... [Now] we’re paying more attention to what’s going on.”


Grace Edquist is associate/web editor of Madison Magazine.

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