Area’s Most Affluent Zip Code – Houlton, WI


Area’s Most Affluent Zip Code Goes to Houlton


G. Scott Thomas is a projects editor for Buffalo Business First, part of the fleet of publications operated by American City Business Journals. To say that Mr. Thomas is a numbers guy is akin to saying Richard Leinenkugel knows a little bit about beer. I like Mr. Thomas and I like the 150 years the Leinenkugel family has devoted to their trade. Exhaustive work on both fronts.

Thomas released his 2017 affluence ratings in early July. He employed a 12-part formula to establish a ranking system for America’s 22,568 zip codes. Factors like per capita income, median household income, workers with earnings of $100,000 or more, and adults with bachelor’s degrees and advanced degrees were used. Statistics are valid. They were obtained from the five-year version of the Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey.

Is this a surprise? Houlton, Wisconsin, the unincorporated area in the Town of St. Joseph (St. Croix County) and holder of zip code 54082, is the area’s most affluent. Oh, Houlton ranks #7 among Wisconsin’s 628 zips, placing it near the top one percent and finishing ahead of better-known Middleton (#8), Delafield (#10), and Brookfield (#11). Nationally, Houlton ranked #1,465 against the 22,500+ zip codes, placing in the top 6.5 percent.

Going west across the river to our golden gopher neighbors, the cities of Mahtomedi and Plymouth, Minnesota have similar affluence scores compared to Houlton.

For the record, the 12-part formula reveals 41.8 percent of Houlton’s residents are workers in management, business, science or arts occupations and 24.1 percent of Houlton’s adults have advanced degrees. An estimated 19.7% of workers in Houlton report earnings of $100,000 or more, and the median family income is estimated at $94,893.

Houlton’s secret is out, thanks to G. Scott Thomas.

With the new river crossing open, the region will discover Houlton’s best too.

Go little Houlton, Go.

June Unemployment Rate at 3%

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St. Croix County’s June Unemployment Rate at 3.0%

On July 26th, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced the preliminary June 2017 unemployment rates for Wisconsin’s 72 counties and the 32 cities with populations greater than 25,000 residents. St. Croix County’s rate was estimated at 3.0%. For comparison, St. Croix’s final rate in May was 2.5% and the final rate in April was 2.7%. One year ago, the county’s unemployment rate was estimated at 4.0%.

DWD said preliminary unemployment rates for June decreased in all 72 counties when compared to June 2016. The current rates ranged from 2.6% in Dane and Lafayette counties to 6.5% in Menominee.

The June 2017 preliminary unemployment rates decreased in all of Wisconsin’s 32 municipalities with population bases of least 25,000 residents when compared to June 2016. The June rates ranged from 2.7% in Fitchburg, Madison, and Sun Prairie to 5.2% in Beloit.

Dane and Lafayette counties had the lowest rate in June at 2.6%, followed by Green (2.8%), Iowa (also at 2.8%), and Calumet (2.9%). Menominee County had the highest rate in June at 6.5%, followed by Iron (6.0%), Forest (5.3%), Florence (4.8%), and Douglas (4.7%).

St. Croix, Pierce, Polk, and Dunn counties comprise Wisconsin’s Greater St. Croix Valley. In addition to St. Croix referenced above, the preliminary rate for June 2017 in Polk was estimated at 3.2%. Pierce’s rate in June was estimated at 3.4% and Dunn’s rate was 3.5%. The current rates in all four counties are lower compared to June 2016.

St. Croix and Pierce counties are included in the 16-county Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI metro area. The June 2017 unemployment rate for the Twin Cities was estimated at 3.5%, which is higher than May’s final rate of 3.2% and April’s final rate of 3.3%. The unemployment rate in the Twin Cities was 3.7% in June 2016.

The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate for Wisconsin in June was estimated at 3.1%, which is the same as the final rate in May, but lower than April’s final rate of 3.2%. One year ago, the state’s seasonally adjusted rate was 4.2%.

The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate in Minnesota in June 2017 was estimated at 3.7%, which is the same as the final rate for May, but lower than April’s final rate of 3.8%. Minnesota’s seasonally adjusted rate one year ago was 3.9%.

The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate in the U.S. for June was estimated at 4.4%, which is higher than May’s final rate of 4.3% and the same as April’s final. One year ago the U.S. rate (seasonally adjusted) was estimated at 4.9%.

Wisconsin’s preliminary (seasonally adjusted) labor force participation rate for June 2017 was estimated at 68.9%, which is higher than the final rate of 68.8% in May and the final rate of 68.6% in April. One year ago, Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate was 68.5%. The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) labor force participation rate for the U.S. in June was estimated at 62.8%, which is higher than the final rate of 62.7% in May, but lower than April’s final rate of 62.9%. One year ago, the labor force participation rate in the U.S. was 62.7%.

June’s estimates are preliminary and are subject to revision within the next few weeks.

June 2017 Unemployment Table
June 2017 Unemployment Comparison
June 2017 Participation Rate

Cheers To Industry Clusters


Cheers To Industry Clusters


Harvard’s Michael E. Porter made a splash in economic research a number of years ago with his analysis of similar businesses operating within close proximity of one another. Hollywood has its concentration of filmmakers, the Silicon Valley has its high-tech start-ups and innovators, the Pacific Northwest has its software companies, and Detroit is home to automotive companies. Porter coined the phrase ‘industry clusters’ to describe the interconnected relationships of competing business and industry.

Plastic molding companies play a big role in shaping the economic landscape of St. Croix County and west central Wisconsin. Although their names do not go on finished products, area plastics companies are aligned with medical devices, scientific equipment, consumer goods, and automotive components, with many being on a global stage.

St. Croix County has another budding cluster – alcohol – in the form of breweries, distilleries, and wineries. A skeptic may suggest that while others chase uncatchable business sectors, some revert to the lowest common denominator: alcohol.

St. Croix’s list of brewers, distillers, and fermenters continues to grow. In random order, there’s Rush River Brewery, Dave’s BrewFarm, Oliphant Brewery, Barley John’s Brewery, Bobtown Brewhouse, Pitchfork Brewery, Swinging Bridge Brewery (on the Pierce County side of River Falls), Aberforth Brewing (the former Hanson Brewing Company), soon-to-open Hop & Barrel Brewing, 45th Parallel Distillery, Madison Avenue Wine and Spirits, Demon Rum, 65 Vines Winery, Emerald Vineyard Estate, Cracked Barrel Winery, and Belle Vinez Winery. The list excludes homebrewers, distillers, fermenters, and moonshiners. My apologies to establishments whose names may have been omitted.

A stop in a local taproom gives patrons the chance to enjoy beer in the freshest way possible. That is, from a tapline connected directly to a keg in the cold room. The list of what’s on-tap can be puzzling. These are not your father’s standbys, and at $5+ for a pint, an elder or two may be left wondering about the other five beers to round out the mythical six-pack.

For some, the act of brewing, distilling, or fermenting is about creating something extraordinary. That means coffee and stout can be used together in the final product. Or peanut butter and honey. Who knew? Self-employment may be another reason to open a shop. The owner, head brewer, taproom manager, keg washer, server, and custodian could be the same person.

Breweries have become tourist destinations. Out-of-towners and even recreational bicyclists may choose to frequent a local brewery on a weekend or holiday. They may shop elsewhere or catch a bite to eat before departing.

A-ha. Alcohol as an industry cluster.

Cheers, Mr. Michael E. Porter. Your last name might as well be Stout.

St. Croix Crossing – A Legacy Bridge


St. Croix Crossing –  A Legacy Bridge

By Executive Director Bill Rubin

After 4 years of construction, the St. Croix Crossing bridge between St. Croix County WI & Washington County MN is nearly complete. A recent article in The Star Tribune captured the essence of the debate to build it. Below is the link to view the article and a beautiful 2-minute video flyover and narrative on the new bridge.

Click here to read the article and see the video

John, Howard, and the St. Croix River Crossing


John, Howard, and the St. Croix River Crossing

A debt of gratitude goes out to a couple of elder statesmen for their contributions in making the St. Croix River Crossing a reality.

I’ll call them John and Howard. Their names may (or may not) have been changed to protect their true identities.

Both had vital roles in the federally-mediated stakeholder process that played out from mid-2003 to 2006. Imagine the anxiety of getting, say, the Sierra Club and local REALTORS® Association in the same room to explore common interests in cutting a swathe through the protected St. Croix River Valley for the sake of building a modern bridge. Common interests . . . Say What? Would the 1931 Lift Bridge go or stay? And what about the earth-tone color scheme for the finished river crossing? Take the tension level up a couple of notches when the environmentalists and progressives were joined by 26 or 27 other strong personalities. Before the end of the process, one stakeholder was “excused” leaving 28 to finish their work.

The gentleman called John is a banker by trade. Now in his 80’s, he still has office hours and volunteers his time in many ways. He was selected to join the stakeholders for his early work as the chair of a two-state coalition that advocated for a new, modern bridge over the St. Croix. In numerous letters to Madison and the District of Columbia, John urged a common sense approach to solving the vexing issue of getting a new bridge. In the end, this strategy proved successful. John made numerous visits to D.C., and more than one U.S. Representative or Senator made a point to call on John when they were near.

Howard is in his 90s. He crossed the old Lift Bridge many, many times from his residence in Houlton (Town of St. Joseph, WI) to Bayport, Minnesota where he worked for a major employer. Howard is a matter-of-fact, salt of the earth guy. His interests in the stakeholder process were on behalf of the Town of St. Joe, sometimes referred to as the epicenter. The anticipated impact of a new bridge on St. Joe would be dramatic, and that’s the tack Howard took. The interests of St. Joe came first.

The difference between John  and Howard can be explained this way – in  the event of assembling a local militia, make sure you’re in Howard’s foxhole: John will negotiate the accord.

The work of the stakeholders went largely unreported, despite their near-monthly meetings. Articles posted online drew hundreds of comments, both for and against. Observers to the process may have witnessed history in the making. Punches were never thrown, but emotions sometimes ran high.

In the end, the stakeholders found common ground. One or two may have pulled back when they sensed the tide was turning in the favor of a new bridge in a corridor roughly one mile from downtown Stillwater. The stakeholders’ consensus resulted in a more formal Memorandum of Understanding that included signature lines for the participants. The MOU bears the signatures of John and Howard.

I made a promise to Howard long ago. He’ll be driven to the ceremonial ribbon-cutting on August 2nd, Good Lord Willing. John will be there too. What a sight. Two elder statesmen seeing the completion of their work that goes back decades.

Going Low, Going High


Going Low, Going High


May 2017’s unemployment rates for Wisconsin counties and large cities were released by the state’s Department of Workforce Development on June 21st. The state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate of 3.1% came out a week earlier. if the seasonally adjusted components are not factored in, Wisconsin’s rate of 2.8 percent is even lower.

The suggested theme here is Going Low.

St. Croix’s rate for May is estimated at 2.5 percent, making it the tenth-lowest in the state. Perennial frontrunner Dane County led the way at 2.2 percent.

May’s rates are low all across the board – 47 counties were at 2.9 percent or lower; 50 counties were at 3.0 percent or lower; 70 were at 4.0 percent or lower. Impressive, considering Wisconsin has 72 counties. Going Low.

Large cities are in the same low ebb, led by the Madison area. Sun Prairie reported an unemployment rate of 2.1 percent, followed by Fitchburg at 2.2 percent, Madison, also at 2.2 percent, and several, including nearby Eau Claire, came in at 2.5 percent. The highest rate reported for a large city in May was Beloit at 4.7 percent.

The state’s top elected official may have referred to the late musical artist Prince and his famous “1999” hit when Wisconsin’s rate was released. The last time Wisconsin’s rate matched 3.1 percent was in October 1999 . . . . Party like it’s 1999. The historical low rate for Wisconsin was 3.0 percent in May-July 1999. Going Low.

Social media from Madison announced the state’s 3.1 percent unemployment rate as seventh-lowest in the U.S. and the percentage of Wisconsin working age residents who are either a) employed, or b) unemployed but looking for a job, as the nation’s fifth-best, estimated at 68.8 percent. Economists call this the labor force participation rate. By comparison, the U.S. participation rate is 62.7 percent. The higher the percentage, the more working age people are engaged in the workforce. Going High.

Statistics can mean just about anything their creators wish. More numbers to ponder. A while back, Wisconsin crossed a mythical threshold when three million residents were employed for the first time ever. The most current estimate is 3,059,000 people at-work in the state. Going High.

Hmm. Low unemployment and high labor force work participation? Nearly across the board, employers struggle to find new workers. Years prior, labor force analysts predicted more people would leave the workforce through retirement than new workers would enter. Their prediction proved correct.

Young adults coming out of high school, technical college, college, university, and even the military can find opportunities nearly wherever they choose.

Low Unemployment, High Participation. Whether it’s Going Low or Going High, here’s to continued economic success.