Unlocking Wisconsin’s Future: Technology, Housing, and the Road Ahead in Economic Development


By: Matt Krogman

The 2024 Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA) Governor’s Conference on Economic Development recently took place at the iconic Kalahari Resort & Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells and the guest speakers and their insights were not to be missed. This year’s theme focused on Emerging Trends in Economic Development; however, I zeroed in on two key takeaways for future growth of Wisconsin: Technology and Housing. Unsurprisingly, the featured speakers did not disappoint: Governor Tony Evers, Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) CEO Elmer Moore, Jr., WEDA CEO Missy Hughes, Economist Mike Knetter, and more.

Wisconsin has long benefitted from our world-renowned higher education system, and we are continuing to reap the rewards of this investment. The University of Wisconsin – Madison has been recognized as a Top 10 research institution in the US for many years with several groundbreaking scientific discoveries to its credit. As a result, the state attracts top global talent, which spurs growth and innovation as well as needed workforce population growth. In recognition of the State’s tech prowess, last year the U.S. Economic Development Agency designated Wisconsin as a Regional Technology Hub in the field of personalized medicine and biohealth technology. Along with that news, Microsoft announced plans to invest billions in a massive data center expansion in SE Wisconsin.

If we consider the impact of technology and innovation on economic growth more broadly, we can extrapolate how this focus will impact our region directly. In the US, seven of the ten largest publicly traded companies are Tech Companies. Of the remaining three, two are tech-adjacent…Eli Lilly is considered a biotech and pharmaceutical company and Tesla is on the cutting edge of automotive technology. Even more enlightening, of these ten companies only three existed prior to 1975: Berkshire Hathaway, Eli Lilly, and Broadcom – the last which is a semiconductor company founded in 1961 and is considered a technology company. Comparing that to the top ten of other major industrialized nations like Japan and Germany, their makeup is remarkably different: two or three tech-related companies and the rest are power or vehicle manufacturers that are 100 years old or more. There simply isn’t the level of innovation and entrepreneurship developing even in what would be considered some of the most powerful competing world economies. It should also be noted that the Market Cap for just Microsoft ($3T) alone is 3x the entire top ten for Germany ($1.03T) and about 2.5x the top ten of Japan ($1.2T).

Housing has become a national talking point over the past couple of years and for good reason. Depending on which study or organization you look to, the United States is anywhere between 3 million and 6 million dwellings short of total needed supply with approximately 5 million to 7 million affordable dwellings short of demand. To help address this shortfall in the State of Wisconsin, last year Governor Evers signed the 2023 – 2025 budget, which included $525 million of investment in workforce housing, which represents the largest investment in State history.

“Housing is Economic Development!” This statement, which was made repeatedly by the CEO of WHEDA, Elmer Moore Jr., resonated heavily with me. At JCW Development, we often work with companies on site selection throughout the US, and in the last few years the order of needs has shifted dramatically. Even as recently as 5-7 years ago the focus for manufacturing or industrial facilities were infrastructure capability, local and regional incentive packages, and grants, with workforce low on the list and housing being non-existent. Now, when we’re searching for new locations, the focus is on workforce availability first, housing availability for employees second, and all the incentives and infrastructure are behind that. Essentially, the executives at these companies have realized that if they don’t have the employees to work when the facility is open, nor housing to bring employees in, they will be left with a brand-new facility that is operationally dead upon arrival. Furthermore, it is not just about the availability of housing, but also the associated cost of living in a given area.

In short, the State of Wisconsin has a bright future as long as we can execute on the vision of our State leadership and keep both higher education and housing a primary focus of economic development efforts. Innovation and entrepreneurship drive new technology and business growth. In turn, we will continue to enjoy well-paying jobs for families who need affordable, sustainable housing and a high quality of life.