Systemic changes fuel economy’s rebound
Washington County fared better than nation in recovery
By ALEX ZANK - Daily News
WEST BEND - A crisis
can change someone’s life forever.
With something like the financial crisis of 2007 and the
global recession that followed, not only does that
change an individual, it reshapes entire economies,
ranging in magnitude from local to international.
West Bend certainly had its share of economic woes while
riding out the Great Recession.
A post-recession U.S. economy — and by extension West
Bend and Washington County — looks different than
before. These changes, however, have been a long time
And the changing economic face of the community has city
officials more confident in a healthier economy down the
Area employment recovers
Earlier this year, West Bend officials announced
unemployment had reached pre-recession levels.
The same can be seen looking at the numbers for the
county as a whole. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce
Development tracks the unemployment rate of each county.
Using this measure, the impact of the financial crisis
and recession can be seen clearly.
The unemployment rate to start of 2007 was sitting at
4.5 percent, meaning less than 5 percent of people in
the county were out of work and actively seeking a job.
The effects of the crisis weren’t realized in the county
until about the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 when
judging solely by the unemployment rate.
Until December 2008, the rate flowed back from the mid-3
percent unemployment rate range up to nearly 5 percent.
Then, in December, it hit 5.5 percent.
The unemployment rate only increased from there,
reaching 9.4 percent in March 2009 The peak unemployment
rate for the county was 9.8 percent in February 2010.
This means nearly one-tenth of Washington County
residents were without a job and actively looking for
The national unemployment rate shows
county residents were not alone in their job struggles.
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the
national rate reached an even 10 percent in October
2009. In February 2010, U.S. unemployment rate matched
Washington County at 9.8 percent.
Comparatively speaking, Washington
County fared better than the U.S. between 2007-14,
seeing unemployment consistently below the national
Growing service industry
By that one measure, it may appear
everything is back to normal in West Bend and Washington
County. However, looking at the unemployment rate
doesn’t tell the whole story.
A long-term change continued,
becoming more noticeable, when the county met its
Speaking on West Bend’s emergence
from the recession, City Administrator T.J. Justice
attributed several things that aided it in doing so.
“I think it’s clearly a rebirth of
the manufacturing industry, a growth in the field of
entrepreneurialism and a growing retail and service
sector,” he said.
The service and retail industry is a
key component when telling the new story of West Bend’s
One way to spot evidence of the
growing sector is by taking a look at the tax base the
city and county received both past and present.
A report from the city’s
administration office highlights two data points, 1960
and 2009, to take a look at how its tax base has
In 1960, the city’s revenue makeup
looked like this: 65 percent of it was coming from the
residential sector, slightly less than 19 percent from
manufacturing and about 16 percent from the commercial
In 2009, it looked a bit different.
Residential property gained a bit, reaching 69 percent
of the city’s tax base. The commercial sector made
significant strides, reaching 28.4 percent of the city’s
tax base, and manufacturing dwindled to 2.6 percent of
“You go back 50-plus years, (West
Bend) was largely a blue collar manufacturing
community,” Justice said.
He also pointed out the service
sector in the area was diverse, ranging from retail to
healthcare to legal services.
It’s important to note that the
changes here do not necessarily mean the manufacturing
industry is disappearing from the area.
MD Design & Automation moved its
operations from Waukesha County to Washington County in
June 2014. This represented a $1.2 million investment,
according to data provided by the city.
Dustyn Daul, toolmaker with MD
Design & Automation, gave a few reasons the business
chose to do this.
“We needed to expand our footprint,”
he said. He said the business is planning to expand, and
land in West Bend was available for purchase that
provided them with this opportunity for growth.
“Waukesha county is so developed
already,” he said.
The labor supply is a bit different
in the area, too. He explained that Waukesha County’s
labor largely has different training and skill sets than
“The employment pool down there is
different than up here,” he said. “There are better
trained people here for tool and dye.”
Justice said the emerging service
industry now provides a good economic balance in the
“We’re not a
community that relies heavily on any one type of