Shaping Jefferson County’s 21st century economy

From small start up businesses to major corporate enterprises Jefferson County is the right place to locate. We a have a diversified economy with major manufacturing firms like Trek Bicycle to strong service business such as Fort Healthcare. Jefferson County Economic Development Consortium works with entrepreneurs to grow their business while assisting existing businesses in their retention and expansion efforts. In Jefferson County our strong agricultural and food processing background has initiated growth in our emerging bioenergy economy. Wisconsin’s largest ethanol manufacturing plant is located here along with several niche startup businesses which are providing support services to the emerging bioenergy economy.

The vibrant economy in Jefferson County enhances our quality of life. Because of careful planning and a tradition of land preservation we have balanced growth while maintaining community livability. This can be seen in the fact that there are over ten farmers markets and fresh market farms located throughout Jefferson County. Jefferson County’s park system, biking options, water sports, fishing, and cultural sites, to name only a few, all add to the quality of life while contributing to the economy.

Jefferson County’s location, economic diversity, and quality of life combine to create a dynamic area within which to live, work and do business. Detailed information is available from Jefferson County Economic Development Consortium, 920.674.8710 or

Glacial Landscape & Early Economics

Jefferson County’s geographic location and landscape configuration led to some initial advantages for economic development. The communities have come a long way from their early economies that were associated with agriculture and wood product industries in river towns in the Rock River basin.

Regional Context

We are located in a special region with proximity to the Great Lakes basin, Wisconsin’s “North Woods,” and the agricultural production “bread basket” of the United States. We are located in one of the largest metropolitan regions in the entire country. Our region is in the population center of greater Chicago-Milwaukee, and we share an eight-County regional economic development organization with Madison and Dane County.

As U.W. Professor Phil Lewis has identified with his “Circle City” idea, we have a lot in common with other economic centers in the region, including Fox Valley, Twin Cities and Quad Cities.

The “Wisconsin Connection”

Jefferson County is physically connected to, and ideally located in, the center of the most diverse and dynamic economic development generation regions in Wisconsin. The County and its communities are positioned to build on our strengths such as small town living, agriculture and food processing and advance manufacturing. At the same time, we can leverage and take advantage of this strong linkage to our two adjacent metropolitan areas which have world class status as research and industrial centers.

General Economic Cluster Locations

Jefferson County has prominent economic clusters in food processing, advanced manufacturing including bicycle manufacturing and bio-fuels. The above image illustrates the important established and growing economic development clusters that are a part of our region.

Economic Focus & Emerging Clusters

The vision for the economic focus of this region is still being created. Jefferson County’s assets of small town living, agriculture and food processing and advanced manufacturing complement the emerging economies to our west. This includes the Capital Region centered on Dane County and the seven county Milwaukee 7 region to our east. The emerging industries of the bio-economy, health care, clean and green technologies, freshwater technologies and bio-medical devices are being elevated as emerging clusters of the “Mad-Waukee” connection which pivot from Jefferson County.

Corporate Presence & Manufacturing Diversity

Jefferson County has a well established corporate presence with significant and diverse goods and service producing companies. Manufacturing is the single largest source of employment in the County with almost 25 percent of all jobs (compared to only 16 percent and 10 percent in Wisconsin and the nation respectively). The service industry, led by high quality and growing health care operations, represent another significant employment sector. This image to the right illustrates how the many leading companies are distributed among the individual communities.

Agriculture & Food

Jefferson County has a $1.5 billion agricultural economy with over 10,800 jobs linked to agriculture. The County’s farmers own and manage the resources of over 240,000 acres of land, ranking it among Wisconsin’s top counties in the production of poultry, eggs, aqua-culture, forages, nursery stock and sod, soybeans and agricultural crops in general. However, dairy remains the largest part of agriculture in the County explained most by the sale of milk. Jefferson County has an abundant number of supply and processing companies that support and add value to the agricultural products.

Niche Economic Sectors & Select Major Employers

Jefferson County has several “niche” economic sectors that are prominent and may be considered special enough to provide special advantage to this area. Some notable economic sectors and the specific business are listed on the image to the left. Businesses that are distinctive include:
a) Advanced Manufacturing: Trek Bicycle (World’s largest bicycle manufacturer)
b) Food/Agriculture: Jones Dairy Farm (Successful local pork/meat company)
c) Health Care: Bethesda (Renowned Special Needs Institution)

Food Processing

Jefferson County’s communities and workforce are part of a strong manufacturing sector (non-durable goods manufacturing) that is skilled in food processing. There are five dairy processing plants, large meat processing operations and regional canning and bottling companies. The image above shows the emergence of “fresh market’ farms that are gaining in popularity as people recognize the value of eating fresh, locally grown food. This advantage may increase as energy costs for food transportation continue to rise.

Emerging Bioenergy

Jefferson County is central to the emerging bio-energy economy in southern Wisconsin. Renew Energy, which began operation in 2007, is Wisconsin’s largest ethanol manufacturing plant.

Small-Town Living

The combination of a preservation and conservation ethic along with high quality communities with a high degree of “community livability” has resulted in a network of distinct communities in Jefferson County. The many different strategies underway in this area are aimed at preserving the best characteristics of the “countryside” with all the best features of small-town living. This unique combination positions our area for the “new economy.” The new economy recognizes emerging lifestyle changes in our workforce, including younger workers, who are attracted to more quality of life features in the communities in which they choose to live and work.

Water & Natural Resources

Jefferson County’s high quality natural resource base is an asset that greatly adds to the quality of life in this region. Studies show that people have a greater sense of well-being if their lives include ready access to the natural environment. The abundance of environmental corridors, rivers and lakes, restored wetlands and extensive public lands position the County for tapping into the emerging recreation and tourism industry.

Water & Natural Resources – Glacial Heritage Area

A region centered on Jefferson County has been designated by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as the highest priority location to further develop a natural resource-oriented parks, recreation, and trail system. This region has been coined the Glacial Heritage Area, and a task force has identified a new set of parks and community-linked trails which are projected to generate a “new economy” valued at over $50 million per year in tourism-related expenditures. Business leaders in this area understand that parks, recreation and “sense of place” enhancements are very important in attracting new business and workers.

What assets and opportunities do you think Jefferson County should build on?

In Jefferson County the vision is evolving. Community representatives throughout Jefferson County are currently developing and refining a vision which will balance the dynamics of a strong economy, a preserved environment and high quality communities for people to live, work and play. Documents like this are intended to reach out to visitors and neighbors alike, so all can understand and further consider the possibilities and unique opportunities currently at hand.

Key Assets & Initial Opportunities

  • Regional Location: Connect with relevant initiatives: Milwaukee 7, Capital Region & State of Wisconsin
  • Agriculture & Food: Grow production & processing targeting regional market of 11 million people. Focus: dairy, meats, vegetables.
  • Corporate Presence and Manufacturing Diversity: Connect with regional institutions & innovators; workforce alignment with emerging technologies.
  • Emerging Bioenergy: Market leaders, entrepreneurs & innovators create technology business opportunities. Waste to energy.
  • Water & Natural Resources: Rock River basin as a model. Rural water quality technologies. Regional aquifer recharge.
  • Small-Town Living: Celebrate & enhance small-town living; focus on downtowns, schools & healthy living.
  • Cultural Heritage: “Glacial Heritage Area:” Tourism close to home: hunting, fishing, biking, regional food, river towns.
  • Education: University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Madison Area Technical Colleges.
  • Preserved Greenspace: Jefferson County’s relationship between community and natural resources results in quality places that include an ability to live in smaller-scaled urban places while still remaining in touch with nature and having scenic and environmental qualities close at hand.