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Top Cities for Job Seekers in Wisconsin

Jan. 14, 2014
Home Search, Mortgages
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Written by Maggie Clark

It’s been a tough few years for Wisconsin job seekers. The state continues to rank in the bottom half of states for job creation, with a 1% growth rate in civilian jobs from October 2012 to October 2013, according to employment data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

But there’s help available for job-seeking Wisconsinites. There are economic development public-private partnerships or job-training centers in almost every city, plus online resources provided by state agencies. The state’s network of workforce development centers places a heavy emphasis on training for manufacturing, construction trades and health care jobs, which are three of the state’s largest industries. NerdWallet crunched the numbers to find the best places for job seekers in Wisconsin.

We found the best places for job seekers in the state by asking the following questions:

  1. Is the city growing? We assessed growth in the working-age population, ages 16 and older, from 2009 to 2012 to ensure that the city was attracting workers and exhibiting a trend of upward population growth.
  2. Can you afford to live in the city comfortably? We measured a city’s median household income to see if workers made a good living. We also analyzed the monthly homeowner costs, including mortgage payments, to see if the city had a reasonable cost of living.
  3. Are most people employed? We looked at the unemployment rate.

Top Cities for Job Seekers in Wisconsin

1. Oconomowoc

This community is located in Wisconsin’s picturesque lake country, about halfway between the larger cities of Milwaukee and Madison. The working-age population grew by 9.3% from 2009 to 2012, which was the fastest growth rate for any community in the state.  And at $72,201 per year, it has one of the highest median household incomes in the state, according to data crunched by NerdWallet. That’s due in part to jobs at the Target distribution center and jobs created by retail and industrial companies moving into the new mixed-use development Pabst Farms, which opened in 2011. Oconomowoc residents are smart: more than 25% have bachelor’s degrees, compared with just 17% of their Wisconsin peers. Residents put those degrees to use at Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital and Rogers Memorial Hospital, two of the city’s largest employers. Job seekers in Oconomowoc can turn to the Workforce Development Center of Waukesha County, a public-private partnership that provides free or low-cost worker training and services such as resume development, computer classes and career counseling. Located in nearby Pewaukee, it’s part of a network of worker-training centers spread across the state.

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2. Fitchburg

Our second pick has the second-fastest-growing working-age population in the state and one of the lowest unemployment rates at just 4.7%. This south Madison suburb’s largest employer is Promega, an international biotechnology firm that manufactures lab instruments for the life sciences. Promega’s Fitchburg campus is also home to the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center, which partners with the biotechnology certificate program at nearby Madison Area Technical College and offers workshops for scientists, the general public and K-12 students in the community. Other large Fitchburg employers include ThermoFisher Scientific, Placon and Wolf Appliances. Job seekers can also get help at the nearby Dane County Job Center where career counselors offer free help with resume building, mock interviews, civil service tests and job fairs.

3. Onalaska

Located just across the Mississippi River from Minnesota, on the western edge of the state, this growing city has lower monthly homeowner costs ($1,452) than our top two Wisconsin picks. Onalaska is home to many health care offices, including Gundersen Health System, Prime Care Health Plan and the Mayo Clinic Health System. The local nonprofit La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium trains health care workers by offering placement help for students looking for experience at clinical sites and connects students with the best health degree programs in the region. The group also advances healthy living by promoting partnerships between local farms and school lunch programs and adding bike lanes to major roads.

4. Sun Prairie

This expanding north Madison suburb has lower monthly homeowner costs than Fitchburg, which is also a Madison suburb. The top employer, the insurance company QBE North America, employs more than 900 people in the community. The city is also home to the Sun Prairie Business Park and a large retail space anchored by Costco and Target. Job seekers here can lean on the Dane County Job Center for help with interviews, resumes and civil service tests for jobs with the state government in Madison.  Job seekers also can enroll in classes and continuing education programs at the Sun Prairie campus of Madison Area Technical College.

5. Menasha

Job seekers in this northeast Wisconsin city have ample opportunities in manufacturing. Workers can post resumes and create personal-skills profiles through the NEW Manufacturing Alliance, a partnership between northeast Wisconsin schools, workforce development boards, chambers of commerce and state organizations to train workers for careers in precision manufacturing. The median household income in Menasha is lower than our other top picks ($47,131), but so are the monthly homeowner costs ($1,188). Job seekers can also get help and connect with employers through the Fox Cities Workforce Development Center.

6. Howard

Located next to Green Bay, Howard has just over 17,500 residents and the working-age population grew by 6.7% between 2009 and 2012, according to NerdWallet’s analysis. Howard is home to the corporate offices of UnitedHealth Care, N-Sight Communication and the regional corporate office of WIPFLI CPA & Consulting. Job seekers here can tap the resources of nearby Green Bay, including the adult bachelor’s degree program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s online career center. Residents can also take a break and make the pilgrimage to Lambeau Field to watch the Green Bay Packers play football.

7. Menomonee Falls

This northern Milwaukee suburb is home to the Harley Davidson powertrain operations center and the corporate offices for the Kohl’s department store chain. The median household income and monthly homeowner expenses are among the highest of our cities, but jobseekers can get help earning a top salary from the career development specialists at Waukesha County Technical College in nearby Pewaukee, where students can access career counseling, skills workshops and mock interviews. Residents can also seek help from the Workforce Development Center, also in Pewaukee.

8. Stevens Point

This town of more than 26,000 residents is located in the center of the state and is home to University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and a satellite campus of Mid-State Technical College. Delta Dental of Wisconsin, Noel Group, Sentry Insurance and Travel Guard all have corporate headquarters in town, and job seekers can get help from the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, a public-private partnership that helps job seekers prepare for and find work both in Stevens Point and in the surrounding area. The median household income is the lowest of our top 10 cities ($38,934), but so are the monthly homeowner costs ($1,124).

9. De Pere

Like Howard, De Pere is contiguous to Green Bay, but on the south end of the city. The median household income in De Pere is slightly lower than in Howard ($56,368 versus $61,327), but so are the monthly homeowner costs ($1,440 versus $1,508). Job seekers in De Pere have a lot of opportunities for help. New North is a Green Bay-area nonprofit that aims to attract businesses to northern Wisconsin by training workers in manufacturing, sales, management and health care professions. Green Bay’s campus of the Wisconsin Job Center also offers lots of online resources for people looking for jobs.

10. Madison

Wisconsin’s capital is home to the state government and the main campus of the University of Wisconsin, a major research university. It’s also the largest of NerdWallet’s top 10 Wisconsin cities for job seekers with 234,586 people living in the city in 2012. Additionally, it boasts the lowest unemployment rate of NerdWallet’s top 10 Wisconsin cities for job seekers at just 4.1%. Those looking for work in Madison can get help from training programs in health care administration and construction trades from the Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin or through the board’s online resources. Madison Area Technical College also offers apprenticeship programs in fields ranging from cosmetology to ironworking, along with traditional associate degree programs. The University of Wisconsin’s adult education program has a wealth of online resources for local job seekers and offers support groups for unemployed adults looking for work. Advisors from the university routinely schedule outreach events at public libraries, community centers and festivals to offer one-on-one career counseling.


Rank City Working-Age Population Change (%) Median Household Income ($) Median Monthly Homeowner Costs ($) Unemployment Rate (August 2013) (%) Overall Score
1 Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 9.3 72,201 1,794 6.0 69.9
2 Fitchburg, Wisconsin 8.3 61,068 1,898 4.7 68.7
3 Onalaska, Wisconsin 6.8 59,186 1,452 5.5 66.3
4 Sun Prairie, Wisconsin 6.4 65,818 1,750 5.1 65.1
5 Menasha, Wisconsin 7.2 47,131 1,188 6.4 63.8
6 Howard, Wisconsin 6.7 61,327 1,508 6.2 63.2
7 Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin 4.2 71,292 1,815 4.6 62.0
8 Stevens Point, Wisconsin 5.9 38,934 1,124 5.9 61.5
9 De Pere, Wisconsin 4.7 56,368 1,440 6.2 58.0
10 Madison, Wisconsin 2.4 53,958 1,692 4.1 57.0
11 Middleton, Wisconsin 4.1 61,691 2,043 4.8 56.6
12 Wauwatosa, Wisconsin 2.6 68,674 1,771 5.1 56.2
13 New Berlin, Wisconsin 1.8 76,236 1,840 5.0 55.5
14 Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin 4.4 37,150 925 6.9 55.4
15 Oak Creek, Wisconsin 2.9 69,107 1,736 5.6 55.3
16 Waukesha, Wisconsin 4.4 58,070 1,646 6.3 54.9
17 Oshkosh, Wisconsin 3.3 42,938 1,207 6.0 54.6
18 Menomonie, Wisconsin 4.1 38,492 1,387 6.1 53.4
19 Germantown, Wisconsin 2.1 73,646 1,741 6.0 52.8
20 West Bend, Wisconsin 4.8 54,579 1,534 7.2 52.8

The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:
1. Population change from 2009 to 2012 from the U.S. Census (2009 and 2012 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS))
2. Median household income from the U.S. Census (2012 ACS, half-weighted)
3. Monthly homeowner costs with mortgage payments from the U.S. Census (2012 ACS, half-weighted)
4. Unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013)
51 cities were included in this analysis.  Only cities with a population greater than 15,000 were included.

Creative Commons: Image: Richard Hurd /Flickr: Source