When one thinks of places to locate a business, a bustling city is often the image that comes to mind.
With all of the resources available in a larger city, why should someone choose instead to locate a business in a small town like Whitewater, Wisconsin?
Studies sponsored by Bizjournals have found that a large number of Americans prefer to live in what are referred to as “micropolitan” areas – small towns and cities on the fringe of large cities. With a population of only about 15,000 (according to a 2014 census), and being conveniently located just 50 miles from Madison and Milwaukee and 80 miles from Chicago, Whitewater fits that description to a tee. Whitewater is also nearby several other population centers such as Janesville, Racine, Kenosha, and Rockford, Illinois. US Highway 12 and State Highways 59 and 89 connect Whitewater to Interstates 43, 90, and 94, making it an ideal location for commuters.
This small college town comes with several other business incentives that you simply can’t find in a large city, such as below-average costs of labor and utilities, one of the lowest tax rates of Wisconsin cities, and a Community Development Authority that is eager to help incoming businesses to thrive. And, being the home to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, there is a ready supply of an educated workforce. “Our campus is entrepreneurial and collaborative by nature, and we leverage the talents of the university to support economic development,” said University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Chancellor Beverly Kopper. “Our students bring new energy and technological expertise to the community, and our faculty and staff are leaders with many years of experience assisting entrepreneurs with growth opportunities, business plans, marketing and branding.”
Another point of interest in the Whitewater business community is the Whitewater University Technology Park, a 130-acre park which includes 35 acres of certified shovel-ready land. There are 12 building sites ready for construction with all utilities included and state-of-the-art technology infrastructure in place. The mission statement of the Whitewater University Technology Park is “to create and foster durable businesses and jobs through a close alignment of UW-Whitewater’s research and educational competencies and the resources of the City of Whitewater. The Technology Park serves as a foundation for a diversified and robust regional economy through the attraction of new residents, utilization of UW-Whitewater faculty, staff and student expertise and the retention of alumni talent.”
For a small business just starting out, the Technology Park also boasts the Whitewater University Innovation Center, a business incubator that serves the University and the community. The Innovation Center is a mixed-use business incubator that offers office and laboratory space, business consultation, business education and workshops, and holds a biannual showcase of its client and student businesses. The LEED Gold Certified sustainable facility provides high-speed fiber optic internet, VOIP phone service, and 24/7 electronic access. For freelancers and people looking to get out of the home office or coffee shop, the Innovation Center recently added a co-working space, where people can work independently beside other like-minded entrepreneurs in a creative and collaborative environment.
Adjacent to the Technology Park is the Whitewater Business Park. There are over 20 businesses in the park, employing more than 2,300 people. Among the residents of the park are Generac Power Systems, Inc., Husco International, and Golden State Foods. The park is operated by Whitewater’s Community Development Authority, which provides assistance such as site selection, securing necessary public infrastructure, planning, and getting access to loans for new and incoming businesses.
Being in rural Wisconsin, it is no surprise that one of the largest industries in Whitewater is agribusiness. From organic farming research to alternative fuels to plant genetics to farm equipment dealers, there is a lot of farming-related business happening in Whitewater. The Coburn Company, whose headquarters is in the Whitewater Business Park, developed the first mass-produced electric fence.
There is much more to Whitewater’s business makeup than agriculture, though. Generac Power Systems, Inc. and Husco International, both major employers in the area, deal in manufacturing. Generac produces generators, while Husco manufactures hydraulic and electro-hydraulic components for automotive and off-highway mobile equipment.
Software and gaming are also becoming more prevalent in Whitewater. One company that got its start in the Whitewater University Innovation Center, Meeper Technology, LLC, created a mobile app which allows users to operate their meeperBOT, a remote-controlled motor base on which the user can build their own creation using Lego blocks. Another company from the Innovation Center, Lexxicon Studios, is an independent video game developer.
As the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater got its start as a teachers college, education holds a special place in Whitewater. Elementary Education is the 5th most popular major at UW-Whitewater, and many of the school’s other majors include an education emphasis.
The Cooperative Educational Service Agency 2 (CESA 2) is based in the Whitewater University Innovation Center. This agency services 72 school districts within 7 counties, with the mission to Improve student learning by expanding the capacity of their diverse school districts. They deliver resources like books and educational games from their lending library to member schools, and they frequently host workshops for educators with topics ranging from how to properly handle violent students to effective practices for instruction.
A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE
When choosing a location for a business, it is critical to consider that many of its employees will want to live in the city or town where the business will be in order to make the commute easier. Whitewater is not just a great place to start a business – it’s a great place to live! The city is located in the rolling hills of the Kettle Moraine, and is on the edge of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. The area is filled with scenic trails that are perfect for hiking, biking, and jogging (not to mention cross country skiing in the winter). There are also many lakes of varying size in the area that provide ample opportunity for fishing, boating, and swimming.
What else is so great about living in Whitewater? It is one of the safest cities in the state! The Whitewater Police Department is one of only 21 state-accredited law enforcement agencies.
Historic Downtown Whitewater is a growing retail environment filled with unique locally owned small businesses, which creates a one-of-a-kind experience for diners and shoppers. For those who prefer to do their shopping in malls and shopping centers, Janesville is a mere 20 minutes away.
The city’s public school system is known for its excellence. This year, Whitewater was named one of the best communities for music education by the NAMM Foundation. Whitewater High School is the only high school in the region to have 3 National Merit Scholars and 13 National Merit Scholar finalists.
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is well known for its outstanding business program – more students are enrolled in the College of Business and Economics than in any other college at UW- Whitewater! Many students in this program have secured awards in national business competitions. The University is also known for its accessibility for students with disabilities. In fact, the school has been listed among the top disability-friendly campuses in the nation, and has an extremely successful wheelchair basketball program. Speaking of athletics, if you are looking for a team to cheer for, UW-Whitewater has an exceptional athletic program, having taken home 15 national championship trophies since 2002 in football, gymnastics, volleyball, baseball, and basketball.
UW-Whitewater is not just a great place to learn – it’s a great place to work! The university was named a top workplace in southeastern Wisconsin 6 years in a row, and employs more people than any other entity in the city. “Our faculty and staff work hard to create wonderful learning spaces for our students and each other,” Chancellor Beverly Kopper said. "This honor is for all they do! It especially speaks to the environment employees have created for each other, one that is supportive and productive, where people can feel good about the work they do every day. And what critical work it is because we change lives. It’s wonderful to know people feel good about working at UW-Whitewater."
So why should a business choose to locate in Whitewater, Wisconsin? With its small town atmosphere and close proximity to population centers like Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago, as well as a ready access to an educated workforce, Whitewater is an ideal location for a business. As stated by Aaron Jagdfeld, President and CEO of Generac Power Systems, Inc., “As one of Whitewater’s largest employers, we can attest to the quality of the area’s labor pool, educational system, and superior quality of life. Moreover, as a UW-Whitewater graduate I can say without hesitation that the business assistance available through the University centers is superb.” EG