An uneven pattern

County business data shows dichotomy between jobs and employers

Posted on Dec 1, 2016 :: Up Front
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

THE SUCCESS OF NORTHEAST Wisconsin’s economic recovery since the Great Recession all depends on your perspective ­— and perhaps how deep you are willing to dig.

For business owners and entrepreneurs, the five years following the recession’s official end in 2009 show the rocky road of the recovering economy claimed as casualties both suppliers and competitors. From 2010 to 2014, the 18 counties that make up New North lost a net total of 610 businesses, according to federal county business data.

Yet, for employees, the data has a more positive spin. In that same time, the number of people working and how much they were being paid increased, with more than 23,000 additional folks in the workplace in 2014 than 2010, and annual payrolls showing an increase of more than $3 billion for the region. That would match the region’s falling unemployment rates.

Of course, there is always more to the story than the bottom line information.

“Unemployment is definitely lower, but we also have a number of low-wage jobs in Wisconsin,” says Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board. “A lot of larger companies are not increasing their numbers, but are hiring replacement. Businesses are definitely hiring.”

Some industries are hiring more than others.

The federal County Business Pattern data records business trends across counties, such as the number of businesses in each county, the number employed, annual payroll and the payroll during a set week of the first quarter of every year. It also tracks the information across business sectors, such as manufacturing or construction.

Manufacturing is a critical sector of the Northeast Wisconsin economy, and accounts for more than 16 percent of jobs in the state. The CBP data shows a net loss of 33 firms in the five years following the recession, a decline of about 1.5 percent. During that same time, the number of paid employees grew more than 8 percent while payrolls grew nearly 17 percent.

Construction showed a much more turbulent recovery.

From 2010 to 2015, the construction industry experienced a net loss of more than 270 firms in the New North, a decline of more than 8 percent. During that time, there was a net gain of employees of less than 2 percent, though annual payrolls increased nearly $243 million, or more than 19 percent.

The uneven pace of the recovery is likely one of the key reasons the recovery from the Great Recession is seen as tepid. Companies have closed and jobs have been lost. While employment and payrolls have increased, there is still unease in the workforce.

“There is a group we call the unhappily employed,” Golembeski says. “It’s millennials that haven’t figured out how to move up from entry level, and folks in the 30 to 40 to 50 range where there is a skills match and we need to give them the skills to help them move up.”