A Region on the Rise

Eau Claire, WI
Written by Grace McDermott

Located in Northwestern Wisconsin, just over an hour from Minnesota’s Twin Cities, Eau Claire has become Wisconsin’s epicenter of business growth and innovation. The area’s agricultural history remains a strong pillar of its economy, but today, Eau Claire is also home to a plethora of emerging, technologically-driven industries.
Eau Claire has cultivated a community where professionals and businesses flourish in tandem, and in doing so, has secured an economic future that is brighter than ever before. With the perfect mix of recreation, culture, and an unemployment rate below 5%, young professionals and dozens of growing businesses have taken root in Eau Claire – and the numbers are growing.

Eau Claire has a diverse economic footprint and robust business-friendly environment to which many regions can only aspire. Creating business growth is impressive by any measure, but even more so when one considers the treacherous economic climate of the last decade.

So what’s the secret to sparking growth amid a struggling national economy? According to Luke Hanson, Executive Director of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Council (EDC), the answer is the even blend of technology, infrastructure, and community.

Despite the waxing and waning of the US economy, Eau Claire has grown substantially over the last decade. When other regions pulled back, Eau Claire remained persistent in its internal development by investing further in local businesses, transport and infrastructure. Now the national market has begun to resurge, and Eau Claire is advantageously at the head of the pack. The city is now prepared to house and support growing industries for which other regions have just begun planning.

Accessibility is an undeniable advantage of Eau Claire and has driven distribution and manufacturing firms to the area for decades. The central location places Eau Claire residents within one-third of the overall US population. The area’s robust transportation networks connect businesses directly with interstate highways, cargo and freight services, railways and an airport.

Today, local and state government – including the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corporation – offer advantageous tax incentives for new and growing businesses in the region. Several shovel-ready sites and industrial parks located within, or directly outside, the city are open and ready for business. These amenities offer firms the promise of both speedy and supported development, but that is only one piece of what makes Eau Claire a great place for new businesses.

“The skilled labor force and the knowledge behind, it is the reason Eau Claire is such a great place for precision manufacturing. In that industry, you have very tight tolerances, and it takes specific skills, specific training and specific learning to be able to get there,” – Luke Hanson, Executive Director, Eau Claire Area EDC.

Precision manufacturing is one of the essential industrial developments of the twenty-first century. Precision manufacturing centers on creating individual pieces or products that require extreme accuracy and identical manufacturing results. These pieces are often found in medical devices, airplanes or advanced machining.

Eau Claire has a long tradition of manufacturing, in part because of its proximity to several of nation’s most traveled distribution routes. As a result, the shift toward highly-advanced and precision manufacturing was an obvious choice, but one that required high-end technological advancement and highly skilled laborers. Advanced manufacturing has become an area of interest for many places with a qualified workforce. Eau Claire has taken this challenge to a new level, building and educating in a specialized manner to facilitate the trade.

Supported by both the education sector and government initiatives, Eau Claire has begun to attract precision manufacturing firms and ancillary industries to the region. As Eau Claire continues to progress alongside the industry as a whole, Hanson affirmed that it is likely to become an essential element of the regional economy in the next five years.

Eau Claire married a tradition of manufacturing with their increasingly skilled and technically advanced labor force, which is why it is no surprise that precision manufacturing has taken off. This injected a wave of new revenue streams into Eau Claire. The area is not only progressing in this innovative sector, but also in other advanced industries including medical devices and plastics, technology and information and computer systems.

Eau Claire’s new wave of development is built on a foundation of skilled workers and competitive business development schemes. Often companies, particularly those dealing with manufacturing and machining, struggle to find the right staff to fill a job; but in Eau Claire, students are given hands-on, specialized training from high school onward. Professionals in Eau Claire have the added benefit of book smarts and hands-on knowledge since it is close to several major universities and hosts an array of specified work training programs.

The city is home to the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire as well as several other smaller schools and technical colleges and continues to educate for the future. One of the essential elements of Eau Claire’s current economic and employment successes is the area’s diligent and forward-thinking planning of the education sector. According to Hanson, it all boils down to integrating business demand with training and education early on.

The unemployment rate in Eau Claire is substantially lower than the national average and has been for years. This is great news for Eau Claire’s college graduate as well as the job seekers from across the country who come here in search of professional opportunity.

“Right now, we see a lot of budding growth throughout the community in regards to all the jobs across the spectrum. We are hiring everyone from engineers to general laborers. It’s a good position to be in,” said Hanson.

Eau Claire is famous for its scenic views, low cost of living and outdoor recreation. The economic achievements of Eau Claire are certainly noteworthy. According to Mr. Hanson, these results are only possible as a result of the lifestyle Eau Claire offers its residents. A trained workforce and an accessible location may bring in business; however, at the end of the day, it is the quality of life the area offers which guarantees sustainable growth.

“One of the biggest draws for the area is people’s ability to utilize the outdoors,” said Hanson. Two of Wisconsin’s major rivers, the Chippewa and the Eau Claire River intersect in this city creating some of the best scenery Wisconsin has to offer. With extensive bike and running trails, several public parks and a laid-back attitude, Eau Claire has become a recreation hotspot for residents and tourists alike.

Eau Claire’s new era of economic opportunity has driven business, culture and a wave of young professionals to the city’s downtown. Today, the city is much more than a scenic suburban stop-off, but instead is a thriving metro of shopping, arts and, of course, food. The area’s relaxed urban vibe is unique and funky, providing residents with both professional development and personal fulfillment – the ultimate recipe for success.



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