The 1990s were growth years for the United States and for Wisconsin. The Wisconsin economy added 461,748 jobs, growing by a remarkable 21 percent over the 1991-1999 period, far surpassing the U.S. growth rate of 13 percent. Unfortunately for some, growth was not uniform across all areas of the state. Employment in Brown County (Green Bay) and the Fox Cities grew by 34 percent and 29 percent, respectively; it grew by 15 percent in greater Milwaukee and by 8 percent in Racine County (White 2000).
In a state that is thought to be relatively homogeneous, why do we find such dramatic differences among communities that are not more than 150 miles apart? Do these communities differ markedly in respect to variables likely to affect economic development? What lessons might each community learn from an analysis of the track records during the 1990s?
To address these questions, we focus on two metropolitan areas, Brown County (the Green Bay metropolitan area) and the metropolitan Milwaukee area, consisting of four counties (Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Waukesha, and Washington). During the 1990s, Brown County added about 35,000 jobs while metro Milwaukee added 105,000. The absolute scale is different: Metropolitan Milwaukee had over six times more jobs in 1999 than did Brown County. The relative rates of growth are different as well: Brown County grew at more than double the rate of metropolitan Milwaukee.
We also examine the central city of each area, Green Bay and Milwaukee. During the 1991-1999 period, the city of Milwaukee added some 4,000 jobs, a growth claim it could not make in the preceding decade. Green Bay, by contrast, added about 21,200 jobs in the 1990s. When a city that is one-sixth the size of another adds over five times more jobs, the result demands some explanation.
We selected the 1991-1999 period for analysis because it was a period of growth. The record since then has been less clear. Rather than muddy the waters by considering the most recent three years, we chose to analyze the period in which the economy largely moved in one direction, expansion. That should provide a more accurate analysis of the two economies in question.