The City of Wausau, Wisconsin is the perfect combination of community, industry, recreation and environment. The primary metropolitan area north of Madison, Wisconsin, Wausau has become a hub for young millennials. In recent years, many young families, businesses and professionals alike have made the move to Wausau seeking the promise of employment and a quality lifestyle.
In the heart of Wisconsin, Wausau is a city steeped in a history of innovation, and today, the area is continuing that legacy with the development of an increasingly diverse industrial sector. Like much of the Midwest, Wausau’s history is rooted in manufacturing and agriculture and the two industries remain prominent contributors to Wausau’s local economy. However, what continues to set Wausau apart is a community-wide commitment to not only leading in these primary sectors, but also progressing and diversifying into emerging markets.
Despite tough economic times throughout the country in the last ten years, Wausau has created and sustained stable economic growth and job creation. Although business can draw in a population, anyone knows that keeping them is that hard part, and this is an area in which Wausau shines.
With a population of nearly 40,000, the area mixes work and play, offering diverse business opportunities paired with a plethora of outdoor recreation opportunities, a low cost of living and a community-centric vibe. Wausau has fostered grass-roots growth through investing in both unique business initiatives and substantial community development.
So, whether you’re a world-class kayaker, an advancing skier, a lover of shopping, or a professional seeking opportunity, Wausau has something for everyone. The promise is echoed by the city’s reputation as a “perfectly seasoned” place. Mayor James E. Tipple, Wausau City Planner Brad Lenz, Community Development Director, Ann Werth and Executive Assistant to the Mayor, Kathi Groeschel came together to provide some insight into the community and the industry that makes Wausau so unique.
Wausau was built on innovation, and the area has remained committed to that legacy throughout the twenty-first century. Home to major manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare, retail and professional services, Wausau hosts a diverse industrial ecosystem that works holistically to support growth throughout the region.
As the largest geographic county in the state, Wausau is home to a number of dairy farms and agricultural opportunities. The county has the most dairy cows in the state, and rich soil continues to draw in businesses from across the agricultural sector. Today, Wausau farmers grow a variety of crops including corn, soybean and even ginseng.
Manufacturing and agriculture can go hand-in-hand, and businesses across the manufacturing sector have broken new ground in Wausau, making it the fastest growing area for industry in the county. Several major internationally renowned manufacturers have relocated to Wausau, seeking the benefits of the strategic location, the qualified workforce and the low cost of operations.
Community ingenuity, paired with growth initiatives pioneered by the local government, has lead to the success of a number of homegrown manufacturing businesses and others. In recent years, locally sourced initiatives have taken over a substantial portion of the area’s economy, igniting the type of grass-roots growth of which many areas can only dream.
Since 2011, this manufacturing boom has brought over one hundred jobs to Wausau, and according to the Mayor, further growth is on the horizon. “What we are most excited about is that history repeats itself, and this community has a can-do attitude.”
Wausau’s longstanding tradition of being north-central Wisconsin’s manufacturing and innovation hub has reached new heights in the last ten years. As the development of IT infrastructure, healthcare and entrepreneurial endeavors have moved to the forefront of development in the region, Wausau’s economic footprint is not only bigger, it is more diverse than ever before.
“Innovation is sort of a theme in the history of the area. We were a lumber town, and we had a very creative class of businessmen. When they needed something to happen they invented it,” Kathi Groeschel explains. The Mayor adds, “the innovation in the history of the area has continued on. You can see it in the new businesses which are developing here.”
The city of Wausau’s strategic location between two major transport systems has made the area a prime spot for developing businesses seeking greater access to the Midwest and Canada. With the convenient access to Midwestern transportation routes, a low cost of living and an attractive community, Wausau is an easy choice.
The IT sector has grown globally in the last decade, and Wausau is quickly emerging as prime site for IT companies seeking relocation from the pressures of big city operations. The important and viable IT market that has set up shop in Wausau is attracting a growing number of millennials and has influenced a new wave of IT education initiatives in the area.
In addition to IT, Wausau is an increasingly important player in the state healthcare system. Home to three state-of-the-art medical centers, Wausau has attracted world-class medical staff and is now aiming to bring in more. Next year, the Medical College of Wisconsin will welcome its first class of medical students to the brand new Wausau location. The medical school promises to influence further health care industry growth in the upcoming years with the added benefit of improved healthcare services throughout central Wisconsin.
Out of seventy-two counties in Wisconsin, Wausau is ranked among the top ten for tourism. The area has an ongoing commitment to environmental initiatives and recreation that continues to attract thousands each year. Mayor Tipple explains, “When it comes down to quality of life, this area really shines. There are not many towns that have a river running through it, a ski hill three miles from downtown, and a baseball team. From a recreation standpoint, Wausau has anything you could want.”
Wausau is recognized as an eco-municipality, a commitment that has gained the county national recognition. Private/public partnerships, and community involvement have spearheaded environmental innovation in the county that works with, instead of against, the natural landscape.
One of the area’s most notable eco-minded projects was Wausau’s award-winning riverfront project – a sustainable neighborhood development that converted a storm sewer back to a natural stream. Wausau’s riverfront project has influenced a new wave of recreation as well as sustainable transport. With the development of walking and bike trails, which promise to provide alternative, environmentally sustainable travel and commute options for locals, the entire city is transforming.
As Mayor Tipple says, “It’s more than just recreation; it’s also a transportation opportunity. It’s a constant effort to make it all happen, and we have made a lot of progress but we are committed to making it even better.”
With such an emphasis on environmental sustainability, it is no surprise that outdoor sports and recreation are major features of Wausau’s charm. From a minor-league baseball team to skiing, kayaking, biking and curling, Wausau offers residents a wealth of experiences right at their doorsteps. In the past, Wausau has hosted Olympic tryouts for kayaking, and most recently, it invested in the development of a $3.5 million world-class curling facility.
Wausau has all the foundations to generate and incubate a high quality of life, and in the end, it is this promise that continues to attract both businesses and professionals alike. “Quality of life surrounds everything we do,” the Mayor explains. “You have to keep reinventing yourself because, if you rest on our laurels, pretty soon you’ll be having areas that need attention, so you have to constantly revamp what you have and look for new ways of making your city more vibrant.”
A balanced economy and a diverse market are most definitely attractive attributes of life in Wausau, but the natural environment, available recreation and an active local community are at the center of the county’s true character and true success.
“Quality of life is what ultimately attracts business and families to our area. The more quality of life, the more likely you are to retain people,” the Mayor continues. Through cultivating community, Wausau has created an environment that will sustain stable growth for years to come, and that makes this county an area to watch.
“It used to be that people searched for jobs first before moving to a community. Now people search for communities first and hope to find a job there; we offer both,” concludes Mayor Tipple.