Best Places to Start a Business in Wisconsin

Small Business
Best Places to Start a Business in Wisconsin

With a growing skilled workforce and business-friendly tax policies, Wisconsin has many places for entrepreneurs wanting to start a successful business.

NerdWallet’s analysis

NerdWallet analyzed 118 places in Wisconsin, each with a population of at least 5,000. We calculated the overall score for each location based on its business climate and economic health using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Learn more about our methodology at the end of this article.

Key takeaways

Proximity to big cities helps — but isn’t a must. Several of the top 10 cities are suburbs of big cities or are close to one. One top community is practically in Green Bay, another is close to Madison. Four are clustered around Milwaukee, and one is almost in Minneapolis. But three of the top cities — Shawano, Waupaca and Plymouth — hold their own without being near major cities.

Eastern and southern Wisconsin win. All but one of the top 10 communities is in the eastern or southern part of the state, with a cluster near Milwaukee. The only top 10 city not in this part of the state is Hudson, which is on the Minnesota border.

Best places to start a business in Wisconsin

1. Ashwaubenon

This Green Bay suburb has a population of just over 17,000, and it has the largest percentage of businesses with paid employees by far among the top 10 (over 64%). The village also has the third most affordable median monthly housing cost in the top 10, at $828 a month. Ashwaubenon is home to Austin Straubel International Airport, which serves nearby Green Bay. The Ashwaubenon Business Association supports business owners through networking opportunities and community events. Businesses will also find resources at the nearby SBDC at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

2. Monona

Surrounded by the city of Madison, Monona boasts the second-highest percentage of businesses with paid employees in the top 10 (over 48%), meaning nearly half of local businesses offer jobs for the community. The town also has the lowest unemployment rate among the top 10 communities, at an impressive 3.3%. The Monona East Side Business Alliance helps businesses in the area succeed. The proximity to the big city means local entrepreneurs can benefit from Madison’s many business accelerator programs, such as Madcelerator and gener8tor, and incubators such as Common Wealth Development.

3. Waukesha

Waukesha is the largest community in the top 10 by population, with 70,775 residents. This Milwaukee suburb (about 20 miles from downtown) features the second-highest number of businesses in the top 10 list, with 4,777 businesses. Although it doesn’t have the highest number of businesses, it does boast the highest average revenue per business (nearly $4.9 million) and the highest total revenue of business (almost $23.3 million). The city is home to University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, plus the corporate headquarters of companies including ProHealth Care and manufacturers Aries Industries and HUSCO International. GE Healthcare also has facilities here.

4. Hudson

Hudson is located in western Wisconsin, about half an hour from Minneapolis-St. Paul. This town has the fourth-highest median annual income among the top 10 communities ($51,180), plus the third-highest number of businesses per 100 people (nearly 15). The Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau serves this community along the St. Croix River.

5. Plymouth

Plymouth is tied with Pewaukee for the second-lowest unemployment rate in our top 10 list, at 3.4%. This town is about 15 miles from Sheboygan, but it isn’t part of a major metro area (it’s about an hour from Green Bay to the north and Milwaukee to the south). The Plymouth Chamber of Commerce serves as a resource for local businesses.

6. Brookfield

Just a few miles from Milwaukee, Brookfield has the second-largest population in the top 10, coming in at almost 38,000 people. Despite having fewer residents than Waukesha, Brookfield has the most businesses (nearly 5,800) of our top 10 spots. It also has a low unemployment rate of 3.5%, likely because company headquarters are based here, like Finserv, a financial technology company. With Milwaukee just 12 miles away, Brookfield business owners can take advantage of Milwaukee’s resources for entrepreneurs, such as Startup MKE and The Global Entrepreneurship Collective.

7. Glendale

Just 10 miles from central Milwaukee, Glendale is close to both the big city and the shore. With the city’s close proximity to Milwaukee, businesses can easily access entrepreneurial programs including Scale Up Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. Featuring the third-highest median annual income in the top 10 (nearly $53,000), Glendale also has a low unemployment rate of just 3.6%. Shoe company Florsheim is based here, as is Sprecher Brewery.

8. Pewaukee

Tied with Plymouth for the second-lowest unemployment rate, this city also has the second-highest median annual income in the top 10 list (just over $64,000). North of Waukesha and less than 20 miles from downtown Milwaukee, this city is home to the headquarters of Harken, a sailboat hardware and accessory manufacturer and distributor.

9. Waupaca

Waupaca is the smallest city by population on the top 10 list, with 6,044 residents. It’s also the second-most affordable place on this list, with a monthly median housing cost of $777 — which is likely low because of its location far from major cities. The Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce and City of Waupaca work together to build and develop the local business community.

10. Shawano

Shawano has the most affordable median monthly housing costs of the top 10 cities, coming in at $634, which is almost $150 cheaper than the second most affordable place (Waupaca). The city is next to Shawano Lake and about five miles from the Menominee Reservation. The nearest major city is Green Bay, which is about 40 miles away. Shawano County Economic Progress Inc. aims to help build and support businesses in the area. Wisconsin Towns Association, a nonprofit organization that supports local government and towns in Wisconsin, is based in Shawano.

Best places to start a business in Wisconsin


 

Rank City Population Number of businesses Average revenue per business Businesses with paid employees Businesses per 100 people Unemployment rate Score
1 Ashwaubenon 17,047 1,703 $3,619,809 64.42% 9.99 5.9% 65.53
2 Monona 7,663 986 $1,398,651 48.38% 12.87 3.3% 56.14
3 Waukesha 70,775 4,777 $4,874,283 37.60% 6.75 4.8% 53.94
4 Hudson 12,880 1,918 $1,970,096 36.86% 14.89 4.4% 52.95
5 Plymouth 8,422 592 $3,964,029 34.29% 7.03 3.4% 52.39
6 Brookfield 37,975 5,797 $1,525,488 35.60% 15.27 3.5% 52.30
7 Glendale 12,889 1,588 $1,655,247 42.95% 12.32 3.6% 51.90
8 Pewaukee 13,455 2,044 $2,312,698 27.01% 15.19 3.4% 51.84
9 Waupaca 6,044 673 $1,675,336 47.70% 11.14 4.9% 51.58
10 Shawano 9,236 1,007 $1,286,479 41.91% 10.90 4.1% 50.10
11 Wauwatosa 46,661 4,678 $1,970,705 37.67% 10.03 3.1% 49.10
12 Pewaukee CDP 8,191 919 $1,604,120 37.76% 11.22 3.5% 48.49
13 Mequon 23,231 2,842 $1,060,909 35.36% 12.23 3.2% 48.38
14 Monroe 10,832 1,165 $1,785,961 34.94% 10.76 4.0% 48.31
15 Middleton 17,830 2,395 $1,609,828 30.94% 13.43 4.2% 48.11
16 La Crosse 51,421 3,054 $2,709,859 43.91% 5.94 4.6% 47.74
17 Marinette 10,927 984 $2,095,117 41.77% 9.01 6.2% 47.50
18 Tomah 9,221 718 $2,002,706 38.16% 7.79 3.6% 47.30
19 Antigo 8,153 695 $1,579,345 44.17% 8.52 5.2% 47.18
20 Mount Pleasant 26,153 1,466 $3,503,162 38.06% 5.61 5.4% 46.75
21 Rhinelander 7,710 966 $1,536,484 43.37% 12.53 7.1% 46.35
22 Prairie du Chien 5,866 650 $1,624,075 28.00% 11.08 3.7% 46.28
23 Marshfield 18,488 1,655 $2,212,483 32.39% 8.95 4.2% 46.04
24 Platteville 11,260 688 $875,077 49.42% 6.11 2.5% 45.97
25 De Pere 24,019 1,543 $3,319,171 35.13% 6.42 4.8% 45.93
26 Fort Atkinson 12,429 1,012 $1,749,693 40.02% 8.14 3.4% 45.89
27 Menomonee Falls 35,708 3,280 $1,933,992 33.60% 9.19 3.4% 45.29
28 Jefferson 7,977 623 $2,285,925 38.68% 7.81 4.8% 45.06
29 Delafield 7,117 916 $830,543 40.28% 12.87 4.7% 44.97
30 Elm Grove 5,943 812 $958,470 23.28% 13.66 3.2% 44.95
31 Sturgeon Bay 9,108 1,374 $714,689 28.97% 15.09 4.5% 44.84
32 Baraboo 12,043 836 $2,106,420 52.03% 6.94 7.7% 44.59
33 Rice Lake 8,395 1,035 $1,049,802 39.71% 12.33 7.0% 44.01
34 Delavan 8,464 979 $1,129,481 37.90% 11.57 5.0% 43.78
35 Portage 10,251 832 $1,608,163 34.38% 8.12 3.5% 43.66
36 Germantown 19,755 1,497 $2,218,797 37.61% 7.58 4.6% 43.64
37 Menomonie 16,185 877 $2,348,306 39.22% 5.42 4.9% 43.17
38 Wisconsin Rapids 18,249 1,538 $1,537,521 39.40% 8.43 5.7% 43.02
39 Chippewa Falls 13,677 1,332 $1,716,521 34.08% 9.74 5.7% 43.01
40 Sparta 9,587 660 $1,316,820 48.48% 6.88 5.8% 42.91
41 Lake Geneva 7,683 1,460 $644,666 31.99% 19.00 8.7% 42.65
42 Appleton 72,923 4,881 $2,058,026 32.90% 6.69 3.7% 42.47
43 Howard 17,939 1,342 $2,111,721 33.61% 7.48 4.8% 42.37
44 Janesville 63,589 4,501 $3,399,560 31.75% 7.08 6.7% 42.34
45 Sturtevant 6,958 600 $1,870,960 29.50% 8.62 3.7% 41.88
46 New Berlin 39,671 3,432 $1,574,644 29.87% 8.65 3.4% 41.59
47 Brown Deer 12,026 936 $2,673,552 27.14% 7.78 4.4% 41.44
48 Oshkosh 66,315 3,676 $2,049,352 35.50% 5.54 4.5% 41.27
49 Onalaska 17,973 1,745 $1,113,942 27.91% 9.71 3.4% 40.77
50 Hartland 9,137 1,167 $1,228,592 26.39% 12.77 5.1% 40.39
51 McFarland 7,922 909 $1,565,183 20.68% 11.47 2.5% 40.37
52 Hartford 14,209 1,315 $1,385,497 28.82% 9.25 4.1% 40.28
53 Sussex 10,553 864 $1,520,921 30.67% 8.19 3.5% 40.21
54 Neenah 25,647 1,808 $2,153,708 27.77% 7.05 4.3% 40.00
55 Verona 10,983 1,455 $894,880 18.69% 13.25 2.8% 40.00
56 Weston 14,869 661 $1,352,398 45.69% 4.45 5.2% 39.82
57 Merrill 9,575 778 $1,883,997 34.32% 8.13 6.6% 39.57
58 Superior 27,053 1,820 $2,071,991 34.89% 6.73 6.0% 39.54
59 Eau Claire 66,551 5,010 $1,483,319 34.13% 7.53 4.9% 39.54
60 New London 7,328 570 $1,343,300 40.53% 7.78 7.0% 39.51
61 Waunakee 12,401 1,163 $1,039,505 31.56% 9.38 2.3% 39.39
62 Stevens Point 26,694 2,052 $2,279,767 31.19% 7.69 6.8% 39.25
63 Bellevue 14,733 912 $1,007,408 35.75% 6.19 3.4% 39.16
64 Little Chute 10,471 614 $1,598,166 34.36% 5.86 4.4% 39.14
65 Fond du Lac 43,050 2,885 $1,900,028 36.29% 6.70 6.2% 39.11
66 Wausau 39,207 3,361 $1,963,738 31.60% 8.57 6.6% 39.08
67 Green Bay 104,393 6,836 $2,025,233 35.68% 6.55 6.2% 38.78
68 Oak Creek 34,580 2,298 $2,187,889 29.07% 6.65 4.6% 38.73
69 Elkhorn 10,012 1,185 $837,893 36.29% 11.84 7.4% 38.60
70 Greendale 14,153 861 $1,166,523 36.47% 6.08 4.5% 38.18
71 Beaver Dam 16,275 1,129 $1,482,808 38.26% 6.94 6.1% 37.90
72 Oconomowoc 15,855 1,980 $703,467 23.64% 12.49 4.2% 37.84
73 Reedsburg 9,341 838 $1,259,615 24.11% 8.97 3.6% 37.73
74 Manitowoc 33,548 1,973 $1,696,235 36.80% 5.88 6.5% 37.67
75 Burlington 10,498 1,028 $1,932,170 34.53% 9.79 7.9% 37.58
76 Plover 12,132 914 $1,238,389 28.99% 7.53 4.7% 37.48
77 Lake Mills 5,730 756 $640,402 23.28% 13.19 5.7% 37.40
78 New Richmond 8,441 1,149 $526,726 28.98% 13.61 7.0% 37.29
79 Grafton 11,496 944 $913,024 28.07% 8.21 3.4% 37.17
80 Ashland 8,189 852 $790,978 26.76% 10.40 5.3% 37.08
81 Madison 237,395 18,673 $1,680,980 27.27% 7.87 4.6% 36.96
82 Menasha 17,365 1,097 $1,758,287 33.64% 6.32 6.3% 36.58
83 Waupun 11,334 736 $552,769 29.35% 6.49 2.9% 36.42
84 West Allis 60,491 4,131 $1,409,724 36.41% 6.83 6.5% 36.13
85 Sheboygan 49,069 2,996 $1,713,025 32.78% 6.11 6.3% 35.87
86 Fox Point 6,697 800 $373,248 16.25% 11.95 2.9% 35.86
87 West Bend 31,340 2,533 $810,231 30.99% 8.08 5.3% 35.50
88 Port Washington 11,310 917 $1,113,506 28.03% 8.11 4.9% 35.40
89 Shorewood 13,200 1,594 $222,648 17.69% 12.08 3.5% 35.24
90 Hales Corners 7,718 668 $559,564 28.59% 8.66 4.5% 34.81
91 Kaukauna 15,552 1,281 $974,665 22.17% 8.24 3.7% 34.63
92 Sun Prairie 29,880 2,003 $980,160 29.51% 6.70 3.4% 34.52
93 Cudahy 18,299 1,014 $1,776,111 31.36% 5.54 6.2% 34.42
94 Greenfield 36,873 2,818 $579,063 30.52% 7.64 4.9% 34.23
95 Holmen 9,173 995 $357,238 23.02% 10.85 4.2% 34.07
96 Stoughton 12,774 1,320 $901,051 20.76% 10.33 4.4% 34.04
97 Fitchburg 25,620 1,629 $1,326,380 27.19% 6.36 4.4% 33.71
98 Franklin 35,649 2,355 $1,067,579 24.59% 6.61 3.5% 33.08
99 River Falls 15,052 1,106 $450,805 28.39% 7.35 4.3% 32.73
100 Altoona 6,844 581 $402,549 25.30% 8.49 4.8% 32.43
101 DeForest 9,106 665 $890,179 27.07% 7.30 3.7% 32.42
102 St. Francis 9,446 501 $1,405,914 31.54% 5.30 7.4% 31.48
103 Pleasant Prairie 19,847 1,308 $2,430,089 21.41% 6.59 6.7% 30.83
104 Two Rivers 11,635 530 $1,325,668 25.09% 4.56 5.4% 30.82
105 Whitewater 14,570 703 $1,449,447 22.48% 4.82 4.5% 30.20
106 Allouez 13,996 901 $490,868 23.64% 6.44 3.9% 29.74
107 Whitefish Bay 14,106 1,182 $164,238 19.88% 8.38 3.7% 28.83
108 Racine 78,548 4,322 $1,693,088 32.99% 5.50 9.1% 28.66
109 Milwaukee 596,459 31,769 $2,470,509 26.97% 5.33 9.1% 28.61
110 Caledonia 24,698 2,007 $419,621 20.88% 8.13 4.9% 27.88
111 Milton 5,541 650 $472,238 20.31% 11.73 7.5% 27.60
112 Muskego 24,279 1,941 $308,251 15.97% 7.99 3.2% 26.48
113 Watertown 23,905 1,721 $1,036,245 24.46% 7.20 7.7% 26.44
114 Kenosha 99,535 5,922 $844,180 32.10% 5.95 8.4% 26.27
115 Oregon 9,412 738 $281,558 18.97% 7.84 4.4% 25.78
116 Beloit 36,921 2,003 $1,660,823 29.36% 5.43 10.2% 24.64
117 South Milwaukee 21,163 1,251 $851,770 16.39% 5.91 6.5% 23.45
118 Suamico 11,475 880 $589,363 12.16% 7.67 4.9% 22.56

 

Methodology


NerdWallet analyzed 118 places in Wisconsin, each with a population of at least 5,000. We calculated the overall score for each location based on its business climate and economic health.

Business climate, 65% of the overall score, is based on three metrics from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners.
Average revenue of businesses is 20% of the score. A higher average contributed to a higher score.
Percentage of businesses with paid employees is 25% of the score. A higher percentage contributed to a higher score.
Businesses per 100 people is 20% of the score. A higher number contributed to a higher score.

Local economic health, 35% of the overall score, is based on three metrics from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Median annual income is 10% of the score. A higher median income contributed to a higher score.
Median annual housing costs are 10% of the score. Lower median costs contributed to a higher score.
Unemployment rate for residents over 16 years old is 15% of the score. A lower rate contributed to a higher score.
 

NerdWallet staff writer Emily Starbuck Crone contributed to this article.

Update: A link in earlier versions of the methodology has been changed.


Downtown Waukesha, Wisconsin, river walk image via iStock.