The counties along Wisconsin’s Interstate 41 (I-41) corridor have traditionally comprised one of the nation’s largest manufacturing regions, with the sector accounting for nearly 19 percent of all jobs in 2016 (compared with just 8 percent of employment nationally). Following the Great Recession, the five-county area experienced steady job gains, driven by growth in manufacturing and healthcare. Yet despite serving as a major source of employment, population growth in the region was modest over the last decade, with recent trends showing a net decline in domestic migration. Faced with a wave of retirements and a tight labor market, the region needed a dynamic course of action to maintain its advantages.
In 2017, the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission engaged TIP Strategies to prepare a regional economic development strategy designed to build a more resilient and diversified manufacturing base in the five-county I-41 Corridor. The plan articulated a set of unifying principles that reflected regional stakeholders’ definitions of economic development for the corridor. It also suggested ways to promote economic diversification and collaboration through the enrichment of the region’s talent base, infrastructure, and economic development networks. Specific recommendations included establishing a talent council, strengthening regional transportation and mobility infrastructure, developing the I-41 corridor as a “smart corridor”, and fostering a collaboration ecosystem. Transportation was a key focus area for the I-41 Corridor because this goal aligned with other goals such as talent attraction, support of the manufacturing sector, and economic competitiveness. Actions steps ranged from planning bicycle and trail networks to enhancing freight connections to using the Internet of Things to elevate the corridor.