Kenosha County’s booming job growth hasn’t translated to population growth

Tim Casey knows firsthand the challenge of finding an apartment in Kenosha. When he was hired as the city’s development director in the fall of 2020, he rented an apartment and only recently …

Tim Casey knows the challenge of finding an apartment in Kenosha first hand. When he was hired as the city’s development director in the fall of 2020, he rented an apartment and just recently completed the search for a new apartment.

“You need to move quickly with apartments in Kenosha because vacancy rates are very, very low and the product sells very quickly when it becomes available,” said Casey.

Casey’s home hunting is just a glimpse of one of the greatest challenges Kenosha County faces. In the past decade, the county has seen one of the strongest job gains in the state. Prior to the pandemic, Kenosha County’s private sector employment had increased more than 36% since 2010, creating more than 15,000 jobs.

It was the fourth most jobs created by any county in the state and the strongest percentage increase among the 25 largest counties.

The county even exceeded its pre-pandemic employment levels after initially shedding more than 8,100 jobs in April 2020.

The state of Wisconsin, which has grown 12.6% since 2010, has yet to return to its early 2020 levels.

Despite the growth in employment and the big announcements of economic development and the construction projects that led to it, Kenosha County has seen sluggish population growth over the past decade. The district gained 2,275 inhabitants between 2010 and 2020, an increase of only 1.6% to 169,151.

Most of the county’s population growth was the village of Pleasant Prairie, which added 1,531 residents, an increase of nearly 7.8%. The city of Kenosha added just 768 residents, an increase of almost 0.8%. The rest of Kenosha County, excluding the city and Pleasant Prairie, had just 426 residents, an increase of 0.9% from 2010.

The population of Wisconsin grew by just over 3.6% and that of the United States by 7.4% over the past decade.

Todd Battle, president of the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, described the problem as “business critical” when asked how important it was for Kenosha County to experience population growth in the coming years.

Battle described the county’s lack of population growth as confusing. Sure, Kenosha is in the upper Midwest, not the southern or southwest areas, which have seen robust growth. The county, like others in the state and region, is battling an aging population and lower household literacy. But it’s also on the outskirts of Chicagoland and the state of Illinois, which have seen emigration in recent years.

“This area seems to have good characteristics, it seems to have some natural advantages, it has economic development and business growth, it is growing in terms of economic opportunity. Why shouldn’t its population base grow at a healthier pace? ”Battle said.

It’s not just that Kenosha is lagging behind the sun belt areas. Battle pointed out that other smaller towns are doing fine. Fort Collins, Colorado grew 18% to nearly 170,000 people over the past decade, and Boise, Idaho reached more than 235,600, an increase of 14.6%.

In the Midwest, Olmsted County, Minnesota, home of Rochester, grew 12.9% to nearly 163,000 and Grand Rapids, Michigan grew 5.8% to nearly 199,000.

“They’re blowing up our doors,” said Battle.

Kenosha overtook Rockford, Illinois, which lost more than 4,200 residents to drop below 150,000, and Aurora, Illinois lost more than 17,000 residents, bringing its population to approximately 180,500. The two Illinois counties closest to Kenosha – Lake and McHenry – saw growth of only 1.6% and 0.5%, respectively.

The numbers from Illinois, and specifically Lake and McHenry Counties, are part of the explanation for Kenosha County’s slow population growth.

Before the job growth boom, Kenosha County was a shared apartment, Battle said. Many residents would drive to jobs in other counties every day. As the number of jobs in the district has increased, residents have the opportunity to reduce their commute and stay closer to where they live.

While new jobs will certainly bring economic benefits to the county’s residents, population growth is not inherent in them.

A similar situation could also have occurred in reverse for companies. Much of Kenosha County’s economic development victories came from luring Illinois companies across the border.

While companies make a 15-minute move north, employees could stay in Illinois. Eventually they could move to Wisconsin too, but that decision may be delayed. Again, there can be economic benefits from new payrolls coming into the county and the state and more money being spent on other businesses, but there is no immediate population growth.

“That’s definitely part of the story,” said Battle, while still suggesting the county should have seen more population growth.

The lack of population growth is directly related to the county’s available labor force, which Battle says is one of the main reasons the region is holding back from even greater growth. While it might be possible to make some progress by improving the labor force participation rate, the county needs more people to really move the needle.

“It really comes down to your number of employees, not your employment rate,” said Battle. “So we need more employees.”

In order to attract more people, they have to live in one place, which means the county has to figure out its housing situation.

“We need more living space and we need it faster and it has to be better and probably more affordable,” said Battle.

This is where people like Casey come in. Not only because of his own experience in finding accommodation, but also because of his day-to-day work as director of urban development at Kenosha.

From his point of view comes the population growth.

“There will be a very strong residential development curve,” said Casey, referring to 135 single-family lots that are currently in three subdivisions and more than 500 units in development.

He said developers from Milwaukee and Chicago are coming to Kenosha and suggesting projects in specific locations. These projects are in the pre-development or concept phase, but the interest is there.

“As part of their due diligence, they refer to or show us market studies that show very strong demand for property and rent in various price ranges,” said Casey, noting that the studies require hundreds of new units in the workforce and multi-family and multi-family units in the market Single family homes.

He said part of the problem across Wisconsin is a lack of interest in land development for subdivisions emerging from the Great Recession because the category has been hit so hard. While the multi-family sector has generally gained more appeal, Casey said he was encouraged that the development of single-family homes is returning.

Kenosha also has border agreements with neighboring municipalities that could add nearly 2,000 acres of land from Somers and Bristol and possibly another 3,000 acres from Paris to make room for more industrial development or high quality residential areas.

Even after more than a decade of growth, the county hasn’t slowed down. In the city alone, 2.2 million square feet of industrial buildings are currently being built and designed according to specifications.

“The very fact that these buildings are being built creates a lot of potential activity,” Casey said of companies showing interest in the area.

Eventually, more employment growth could fuel population growth in Kenosha County.

Population growth in Kenosha compared to cities of similar size in the Midwest

city

2010 population

Population 2020

Change since 2010

Growth (%)

Rochester, MN

106,769

121,395

14,626

13.7

Dearborn, MI

98,153

109,976

11,823

12.1

Champagne, IL

81,055

88,302

7,247

8.9

Ann Arbor, Michigan

113.934

123.851

9,917

8.7

Bloomington, MN

82,893

89,987

7.094

8.6

Troy, MI

80,980

87,294

6.314

7.8

Elgin, IL

108.188

114,797

6,609

6.1

Sioux City, IA

82,684

85,797

3.113

3.8

Green Bay, Wisconsin

104.057

107,395

3,338

3.2

South curve, IN

101.168

103.453

2,285

2.3

Davenport, IA

99,685

101,724

2,039

2.1

Cicero, IL

83,891

85.268

1,377

1.6

Westland, Michigan

84.094

85,420

1,326

1.6

Kenosha, WI

99,218

99,986

768

0.8

Dubai, MN

86,265

86,697

432

0.5

Waukegan, IL

89,078

89,321

243

0.3

Evansville, IN

117,429

117,298

-131

-0.1

Lansing, MI

114.297

112,644

-1,653

-1.5

Livonia, MI

96,942

95,535

-1,407

-1.5

Bloomington, IN

80.405

79,168

-1,237

-1.5

Springfield, IL

116,250

114.394

-1,856

-1.6

Peoria, IL

115.007

113,150

-1,857

-1.6

Hammond, IN

80,830

77,879

-2,951

-3.7

Gary, IN

80.294

69.093

-11,201

-14.0

Flint, MI

102,434

81,252

-21.182

-20.7

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