The Best Towns in Wisconsin for Young Families

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When young families choose a place to settle down and buy a home, they look at more than just the price tag. They look at what the community has to offer, from its public schools to the local economy. With that in mind, we asked the following questions as we analyzed cities and towns across the state and identified the best for young families:

  1. Does the town have good public schools? We measured schools’ academic performance with ratings from GreatSchools. This non-profit compares a given school’s standardized test scores to the state average to obtain a rating on a 1 to 10 scale (10 representing the highest score). Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.
  2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at both median home values in each town and ongoing monthly home costs, including mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuel and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.
  3. Is the town growing and prospering? We assessed a town’s economy by looking at average household income and income growth over the last decade. Higher income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.

The Best Towns for Young Families

1. Muskego

Muskego is a small city in Waukesha County, just 20 minutes from downtown Milwaukee. Students score an average 23.7 on the ACT – significantly higher than most competitors in their conference. The city also includes three lakes, where residents can boat, sail and fish.

2. Oconomowoc

Oconomowoc is 30 miles west of Milwaukee. The city includes 33 parks and a 15-mile multi-use trail; in the summers, residents can bike, jog and skate over the Lake Country Trail, and, in the winter, they ski. The community’s population has also expanded quite a bit in recent years, with 27.3 percent growth between 2000 and 2010.

3. Germantown

Germantown is in Washington County, about 25 miles from Milwaukee. The village has made CNNMoney’s list of best places to live several times over, including in 2007, 2009 and 2011. Local attractions include an archery range, a disc golf course and museums maintained by the Germantown Historical Society.

4. Mequon

Mequon is a city in Ozaukee County approximately 20 miles north of Milwaukee. The local school district is highly regarded; in 2009, Businessweek called Homestead High School the top high school in the state. Indeed, Homestead boasts a strong AP program, with 88 percent of students taking the exam scoring a 3 or higher, therefore qualifying for college credit.

5. Menomonee Falls 

Menomonee Falls is the most populous village in Wisconsin, and it is in the Milwaukee metro area. Kohl’s is headquartered here, and the department-store giant is among the major employers in the area. The waterfall that gives the community its name is also the beginning of a 12-mile trail for hiking and biking.

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6. Franklin

Franklin is a suburb of Milwaukee about 10 minutes outside the big city. In 2011, CNNMoney called it one of the 100 best places to live in the state, thanks in part to economic activity in town. The community also includes an excellent school district, with a high graduation rate of 97.7 percent.

7. Brookfield

Brookfield is just west of Milwaukee, in Waukesha County. Earlier this year, two of the community’s high schools – Brookfield Central and Brookfield East – were recognized as among the best in the country by Newsweek. For fun, Brookfield residents can enjoy a beach at Fox Brook Park, seven golf courses, spas and more.

8. Marshfield

Marshfield is the largest city in Wood County, in central Wisconsin. Forbes has ranked the community the fifth-best small city to raise a family, an analysis that favors a short commute, a high graduation rate at the local high school and affordability, among other factors. The city is indeed affordable, with a median home value of $127,700.

9. Pleasant Prairie

Pleasant Prairie is a village in Kenosha County, about halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago. The community is the fifth-largest manufacturing municipality in the state, after Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison and Menomonee Falls. Generally, too, throughout the state, the industry is doing well – the Department of Revenue expects that manufacturing will grow 2 or 3 percent every year through 2016.

10. Onalaska

Onalaska is a city in La Crosse County, in the state’s western region. The community sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, and residents also have easy access to the 7,700-acre Lake Onalaska. These two bodies of water give locals a place to fish, kayak, canoe and more.

Rank City Nearest big city GreatSchools rating Median home value Monthly owner costs Median household income Growth,’99-’11 Overall score for young families
1 Muskego Milwaukee 9 $269,500 $1,907 $83,994 30.7% 69.1
2 Oconomowoc Milwaukee 8 $238,700 $1,775 $71,652 39.8% 68.3
3 Germantown Milwaukee 9 $245,800 $1,749 $74,694 23.0% 66.3
4 Mequon Milwaukee 10 $365,900 $2,457 $106,519 17.4% 65.9
5 Menomonee Falls Milwaukee 9 $237,500 $1,866 $71,326 23.1% 65.7
6 Franklin Milwaukee 9 $239,200 $1,861 $77,654 20.7% 65.2
7 Brookfield Milwaukee 9 $286,900 $1,979 $88,195 15.7% 62.6
8 Marshfield Wausau 8 $127,700 $1,134 $44,411 19.2% 62.4
9 Pleasant Prairie Milwaukee 8 $232,700 $1,869 $75,063 19.4% 59.8
10 Onalaska La Crosse 7 $166,400 $1,486 $57,377 20.0% 56.8
11 Wauwatosa Milwaukee 7 $229,300 $1,786 $67,133 23.1% 56.4
12 De Pere Green Bay 8 $169,800 $1,470 $54,477 8.3% 56.4
13 New Berlin Milwaukee 8 $247,100 $1,861 $75,297 11.4% 56.3
14 Fitchburg Madison 7 $270,600 $1,998 $63,811 26.5% 55.9
15 Oshkosh 7 $117,100 $1,229 $43,203 14.8% 55.5

Methodology 

The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:

  1. GreatSchools city rating. GreatSchools city ratings are calculated by averaging the weighted overall rating for each school in the city (weighted by the number of students enrolled at the school)
  2. Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  3. Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  4. Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)
  5. Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)

51 Wisconsin cities and towns designated as places by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only places with a population greater than 15,000 were considered.

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