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WPR: Wisconsin has regained almost all the population it lost since 2020, but rebounds have been uneven

Source: Wisconsin Public Radio

Wisconsin has regained almost all the population it lost since 2020, despite the fact that deaths are outnumbering births in the state.

But even as more people move to Wisconsin, the state’s post-pandemic population gains have been uneven. Milwaukee County continues to shrink, while the Madison area in Dane County is surging. And several rural counties in northern Wisconsin are seeing relatively high population growth rates, recently released estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show.

Transplants account for statewide growth, as more Wisconsinites die than are born

Between the official U.S. Census count on April 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, Wisconsin lost 13,624 people, a drop of about 0.23 percent.

But, by July 1, 2022, Wisconsin had regained most of that loss, according to the updated census estimates. The state had nearly 5.9 million residents in 2022, which was only 1,186 fewer people than were tallied just after the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

New people relocating to Wisconsin — whether from overseas or from other states — accounted for much of the population rebound between 2021 and 2022, said John Johnson, a research fellow at the Marquette Law School’s Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education.

That’s because deaths have been exceeding births in Wisconsin every year since 2020.

Migration is going to be the driver of population change, growth or decline, going forward“Even last year, which was an improvement for the state, we still had more deaths than births,” Johnson said. “Migration is going to be the driver of population change, growth or decline, going forward.”

In 2022, 63,397 Wisconsinites died — 1,758 more than were born. By comparison, more than 7,657 people moved to Wisconsin from elsewhere in the U.S., and an estimated 8,174 people immigrated to the state from other countries, according the Census Bureau totals.

The phenomenon of deaths exceeding births has been decades in the making, Johnson said. Demographers point to factors like the aging of baby boomers, as well as trends seen in other developed nations where people are more likely to give birth later and to have fewer children overall compared to previous generations.

“The pandemic accelerated that trend (of deaths outpacing births),” Johnson said. “The switch from slightly more births than deaths to slightly more deaths than births occurred sooner than we expected, but I think most demographers expected that switch to happen later in this decade.”

In 2020, deaths exceeded births in half of all U.S. states, which was a record high number of states, according to an analysis from the University of New Hampshire. Those trends continued into 2021 (when deaths outpaced births in 26 states) and in 2022 (when there were more deaths than births in 24 states), according to a UNH analysis.

Deaths from COVID-19 itself played a role — an estimated 16,498 Wisconsinsites have died from the disease since 2020. Experts also point to the likelihood of excess deaths, meaning people who died as an indirect result of the pandemic. That could include people whose access to health care was delayed, or those who died of drug overdoses or suicide amid social isolation.

And, on the other end of the life cycle, the pandemic may have motivated parents to delay having children because of worries about finances, health risks or being cut off from social supports.

Population rebounds were uneven, as Milwaukee County kept plummeting

Although Wisconsin has as a whole has attracted enough transplants in the last year to nearly make up for its post-2020 population drop, rebound patterns vary widely across the state.

Those divides could have lasting economic implications, as workforces grow or shrink. Population also translates to political power, since census counts are used to calculate representation in the U.S. House of Representatives and to help determine the boundaries of state and local political districts.

Although Milwaukee County remains the state’s most populous county overall, it’s also lost the most residents in recent years.

The county’s population dropped by 20,834 people between April 1, 2020 and July 1, 2022, a decline of more than 2 percent.

In a statement, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said the county’s strategic plan aims to retain residents, in part by focusing on people who have been historically underserved.

“Milwaukee County remains at the top of some of the worst lists when it comes to race and health equity, and we’ve been at the top for the better part of the decade — this hurts everyone,” Crowley said. “If we’re concerned about the exodus from the County then we must make the investments to make our region a place people want to stay, settle down, and contribute to the community around them.”

Rates of homeownership, poverty and infant mortality vary widely between white, Black and Latino Milwaukee County residents, according to figures gathered by the county as part of its racial equity public health plan. The city of Milwaukee also routinely ranks as among the country’s most racially segregated.

The county’s post-pandemic population loss is a continuation of a long-term trend. Between the 2020 and 2010 Census, Milwaukee County lost more than 8,200 residents, close to a 0.9 percent drop.

The 2020 figure could shift somewhat, however, if an effort by Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson is successful. Johnson is challenging that city’s official 2020 Census count, arguing the Bureau undercounted the city’s residents by about 16,500 people, leading to millions of dollars in forgone federal funding.

Post-pandemic figures show Dane County growth continues

At the other end of the spectrum was Dane County, which has seen continued population gains since 2020.

Dane County added 6,696 people since 2020, the largest number of new residents for any Wisconsin county, the new Census Bureau data shows, representing a growth rate just over 1 percent.

Madison, Dane County’s largest city, is home to Wisconsin’s state capital and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The county’s largest employers include the health care records company Epic Systems and the insurance companies American Family Insurance and CUNA Mutual, according to the Madison Region Economic Partnership. It’s also home to the scientific research companies PPD and Exact Sciences.

Between 2010 and 2020, Dane County’s population grew 15 percent to more than 561,500 people, according to the U.S. Census.

Although Dane County gained the largest number of residents, several northern Wisconsin counties actually saw the highest post-2020 growth rates as a percentage of their total populations.

Vilas County near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula gained 716 residents since spring of 2020, a 3.1 percent bump. In Burnett County, which borders Minnesota, the population likewise jumped by 3.1 percent, although that increase represented a relatively modest number of 510 additional residents.

Johnson says that could be a result of people who’ve retreated from urban areas to be closer to nature.

“Everyone I’ve talked to thinks it’s the …  lifestyle popularity of moving up there and living in a more rural area with access to great parks and things like that,” he said. “Many more people moved to the Northwoods than moved away from it, and that’s what drove whatever population growth those counties did see.”

Originally published on

Wisconsin State Journal: Madison tied for lowest metro unemployment rate in country in February

Wisconsin State Journal & cobrand logo

Source: Wisconsin State Journal

Madison tied with a city in Iowa for the lowest metropolitan unemployment rate in the country in February, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Both Madison and Ames, Iowa, had unemployment rates of 1.9% that month, the BLS report released Wednesday said.

“Generally speaking, low unemployment for a city or region is usually indicative of a healthy, strong local economy,” said Gene Dalhoff, vice president of talent and education for the Madison Region Economic Partnership. “That is certainly the case in Madison.”

Other Wisconsin communities had low unemployment rates in February, too.

Appleton and Sheboygan both reported a rate of 2%, according to the BLS.

Unemployment rates were generally lower last February compared to the year before — 228 of the country’s 389 metropolitan areas boasted lower rates, while 131 areas had higher percentages and 30 areas had “unchanged rates,” according to the BLS.

“At the moment, there are conflicting indicators about the likelihood of a recession in the near future,” Dalhoff said. “However, should a recession occur, Wisconsin, and especially Madison, is well positioned to weather a downturn in comparison to many other regions across the country.”

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Wisconsin State Journal: ‘Call of Duty’ fans to pack Orpheum as professional esports make Madison debut

Wisconsin State Journal & cobrand logoSource: Wisconsin State Journal 

With all the glitz of a rock concert and the high stakes of a pro sports qualifying match, professional esports is making its Madison debut.

Some 1,000 video game fans are expected to pack the Orpheum Theater Saturday afternoon for a heated battle among top-tier “Call of Duty” pros, as Minnesota Røkkr, the host team, faces off against the Florida Mutineers and the L.A. Guerrillas.

Billed as the “Minnesota Røkkr Home Series,” the event pits one four-player team against another in real time while the strategies and skills they employ in the military-style video game on their gaming stations is projected on a 32-foot-wide screen suspended above the stage.

Scene from an unofficial National Junior College Athletic Association Esports competition between students from Madison Area Technical College and Crowder College playing Call of Duty Warzone 2, March 22, 2023.

“The experience is really a hybrid of a sporting event and a rock concert,” said Brett Diamond, who worked for the NFL for 11 years becoming COO of the esports organization Version1, which includes Røkkr as well as pro teams for the video games Rocket League and Valorant.

“If you’re just watching the fans, you could be at any professional sporting event,” Diamond said. “They are passionate, they are excited, they are cheering, they are chanting. The intensity and the passion that these fans bring to the event is one of the exciting things about it.”

For many years a variety of groups – from Destination Madison and the Madison Area Sports Commission to the Madison Region Economic Partnership, or MadREP — has eyed the booming world of professional esports.

But getting them to Madison is “something that we’ve been trying to figure out for probably 10 years, as esports has risen in popularity,” said Jamie Patrick, vice-president for convention sales, sports and services at Destination Madison and the Madison Area Sports Commission. “We needed to start planting our flag and hosting a really cool event.”

“Esports is a huge global industry,” said Jennifer Javornik, co-founder of the Wisconsin Games Alliance, the professional association for the video game industry in the state. “North America is a little bit behind Asia and Europe. Madison has all the components that should lead to a vibrant esports (scene). We have college teams that are doing really well and are relatively mature. We have the university, which is a huge concentration of the demographic that loves esports.”

“It was really important to get a professional esports team to Madison to start building that ecosystem and establishing Madison as an esports community,” she said. “I see esports as something that helps our cred as a hub of the video game industry.”

Making the playoffs

A subset of the broader video game industry, esports can be played online or at a live event, and at varying levels. Madison has held a few smaller live esport events, “but nothing professional,” said Joe Hanson, head esports coach at Madison Area Technical College, which has a thriving esports program and a state-of-the-art gaming facility at its Truax campus. As with a growing number of colleges, esports is now an official part of the MATC athletics department.

The atmosphere at a live esports competition — like the Minnesota Røkkr Major II in Prior Lake, Minnesota, shown here — is a hybrid of a rock concert and pro sports event, organizers say.

Importing a pro competition like the Røkkr event “is a large step in the right direction,” said Hanson, who plans to attend Saturday with his 17-year-old son. MATC, also known as Madison College, will also be welcoming the three competing teams, who can use the school’s esports space to warm up, he said.

“It’s pretty awesome to think that we’re going to have three professional esport teams just hanging out in our lab,” he said, “using it essentially as a practice arena before their weekend events.”

Saturday’s four-hour, regular seasonal competition at the Orpheum will include matches at 2 and 5 p.m., plus a live match at another location shown virtually in between. Diamond expects about a third of Saturday’s fans will come from out of state, and the rest from across Wisconsin.

Røkkr (pronounced “rocker”) and its two opponents from Florida and California all have mixed records this year, “which makes it exciting, where everyone’s fighting to make the playoffs,” Diamond said. The teams are about halfway through their season, “so the teams are jockeying for playoff contention, and every match really matters.”

Røkkr is one of a dozen teams — 10 from the U.S., one each from Toronto and London — vying for a spot in the “Call of Duty” league championships to be held in June, with a first-place prize of $1.2 million.

“These players are the best in the world at what they do. And what they happen to do is playing video games,” Diamond said.

“The time they put in, whether it’s practice, watching film, their workout routine — they put in the same amount of hours per day that an NFL player does,” he said. And “the fans are just as invested in the wins and losses as any traditional sports fan.”

Growing up with the game

Madison’s reputation as a town with a large, engaged college-age population was not lost on the organizers of the April 1 competition, Diamond said. While many players of the first-person-shooter game “Call of Duty” range in age from 21 to 35, the average player is 26 and likely male.

Many in their 20s grew up with the game. That was the case for Jake Petersen, a business analyst in Madison who started playing “Call of Duty” more than a decade ago.

“I was a freshman in high school, and it was just the most popular game to play at the time,” said Petersen, 26, who grew up in Wauwatosa. “It was just really fun to talk to friends after school while gaming.”

He also became a fan of watching esports tournaments early on. “It was a pretty niche, grassroots scene,” unlike the more polished, high-energy events today, he said. Petersen even aspired to become a professional gamer when he was younger.

“Even though I didn’t achieve that, it was a lot of fun,” he said. “You make a lot of good memories and friends along the way when you’re playing any game competitively.”

The Røkkr team competes at a previous esports event in Prior Lake, Minnesota. Røkkr will travel to Madison to take on two other pro “Call of Duty” teams April 1 at the Orpheum Theater.

Now he plays occasionally, but remains a fan — and he’ll be at the Orpheum Saturday.

“It’s very unique for (a competition) to be coming to Madison, which is why I’m so excited about it,” he said. “Large esports events like this generally don’t come to Wisconsin. Often the bigger cities with bigger venues get those opportunities to host tournaments.”

Part of a team

Owned in part by the Wilf family, also owners of the Minnesota Vikings, Version1 is stepping out of its home state for the first time with the Røkkr event in Madison, Diamond said.

In 2021, the region’s software development industry, which includes game development, grossed $1.9 billion overall, according to statistics from MadREP. Jobs in the region’s software development sector number over 12,000, more than six times the national average for a region of similar size. That area job growth is projected to continue a steady 9% annual rise into 2026, according to a 2021 report.

And Madison-area colleges are well on board with the esports trend. Increasingly used as a recruiting tool, strong esports programs can give students from all walks of life a sense of camaraderie and a greater sense of connection to their school, Hanson said.

“There’s still a lot of growth that can happen in esports,” he said. “At the collegiate level, it’s exploding right now.”

“The esports world is definitely blowing up, and young people are looking to be part of a team,” agreed Suann Saltzberry, director of athletics at Edgewood College, which brought on an esports coach in early 2022 and offers scholarships for esports athletes.

“It’s an area of growth, because these kids are looking to continue to play, and to play at a competitive level,” Saltzberry said. “We’re looking to potentially renovate our esports arena space here on campus, to make it bigger and offer more PCs so more players can play at the same time. It’s been interesting for me to understand the logistics behind it and how it works, but there are kids choosing colleges for what they offer in esports.”

Fans provide a lot of the energy at live esports events, like this past competition featuring the Røkkr “Call of Duty” team out of the Twin Cities.

UW-Madison doesn’t have an esports program, but it does have an official esports club with more than 1,500 members and competitive teams for 10 different esports, said club president Michael Verban. And while the club doesn’t currently have a designated campus home, the university plans to include an esports space in the Bakke Recwell and Wellbeing Center, a student athletic facility under construction on the west side of campus that is scheduled to open this fall, he said.

Drawing a crowd

Compared to many in-person pro esports events — which can fill U.S. stadiums with crowds of 13,000 to 20,000 people, and more than double that in Asia — the Røkkr competition in Madison and a second one in St. Paul on May 6 will have a different feel, Diamond said.

That’s by design. “We’re trying something new,” he said.

After touring possible sites including the Orpheum, Version1 “picked the venue, because they thought it had the vibe they were going for with their fans,” said Patrick of Destination Madison. “It’ll create an intimate atmosphere. The Orpheum’s got a lot of history. They just felt the vibe connected with who they are as a team.”

With its Downtown location and tickets priced from $33 (Gold VIP seats go for $238), Verban thinks there will be a lot of interest in Saturday’s event among college students.

“I can guarantee,” said the UW-Madison senior, “that there will be a lot of people who would love being able to see a live event in town.”


This story has been updated to correct Brett Diamond’s title. Diamond is the COO of Version1.

Viewpoints: Milwaukee’s most valuable resource today, and in the future

Biz Times Milwaukee logo

Source: Biz Times Milwaukee

When it comes to Mother Nature’s most valuable resources, the only thing more essential than freshwater is air. Humans can’t live without water for more than three days, but that is just the beginning of its importance to our homes, communities and businesses.

We’re already seeing the impact of too little water in the Western states, but too much water can also cause disaster. We recently saw the impact of torrential rains on our community, and even worse is the destructive force of hurricanes and rising sea levels on the East Coast.

At The Water Council, we believe Milwaukee’s abundant and relatively stable access to freshwater is its most valuable resource today and in the future. That’s why the headline in the recent BizTimes’ article “Time is now for Milwaukee to ready itself as a climate haven, experts say” was spot on. The Water Council and our partners are already working to prepare the community, with several exciting opportunities on the horizon. We can do more and do it better so that we are a global magnet for talent and water solutions.

Our connection to Lake Michigan is valuable not just for the water itself but for the economy that has grown up around it. The Water Council was founded in 2009 in recognition of the density of water technology companies in southeastern Wisconsin, including A. O. Smith Corp., Badger Meter, InSinkErator and Kohler Co. 

The growing water crises around the world present additional opportunity for water innovators, and Milwaukee – home of some of the nation’s leading water research programs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University, a robust water economy, and the Global Water Center, our headquarters in Walker’s Point – is well positioned to meet that need.

Even though we welcome members from around the world, more than half of our 150 members are based in Wisconsin. These include innovative companies solving pressing water challenges, such as Rapid Radicals Technology (rapid wastewater treatment), NanoAffix Science (creators of a handheld device for detecting lead in water) and ORIN Technologies (environmental remediation, including PFAS destruction).

In fact, we see an opportunity for Wisconsin to become a leader in building climate change resilience. In fall, we applied for a $1 million National Science Foundation grant to plan a regional innovation engine focused on water and energy resilience for manufacturers and utilities with lead partners MKE Tech Hub Coalition, the Wisconsin Technology Council, Marquette University and the Madison Region Economic Partnership.

The need for energy and water solutions is obvious, and we believe Wisconsin’s strong manufacturing base, excellent research universities, and leading energy and water technology companies make a strong case for building such an engine here and exporting our knowledge and solutions across the world.

Milwaukee is already a leader in water treatment, which could help the area accommodate more residents and serve as a model for other cities. For example, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is leading the nation in green infrastructure, including naturalizing concrete water channels, purchasing conservation easements, working with farmers to reduce fertilizer runoff, and providing free or low-cost rain barrels and rain garden materials to residents.

These efforts to “manage water where it falls,” along with MMSD’s Deep Tunnel completed in 2010, help prevent sewer overflows into Lake Michigan when heavy rain threatens to overwhelm MMSD’s water reclamation facilities. MMSD captures and cleans more than 98% of wastewater and stormwater that enters the sewer system, far higher than the EPA requirement of 85% and the totals captured by many other cities with combined sewer systems. This will become even more critical as climate change causes more extreme weather.

Businesses must also do their part in protecting our freshwater for current and future residents. At The Water Council, we work with organizations locally and worldwide on improving water stewardship. In Milwaukee, we’ve worked with companies as large as A. O. Smith and as small as Engel Tool & Forge in Milwaukee’s Harbor District, which was able to cut its water usage by a whopping 90% after implementing a closed-loop water system for cooling equipment.

Although climate change is unquestionably a global catastrophe, Milwaukee’s future remains bright and, frankly, I believe is getting even brighter. The time is now for Milwaukee to prepare itself as a climate and water haven for people seeking a place to work and raise their families. Our abundant freshwater has been essential to writing our community’s history, and today’s spirit of water stewardship and innovation will serve as an essential ingredient in writing the next chapters for Milwaukee.

Dean Amhaus is president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based The Water Council.

Originally published on

Daily Cardinal: Associated Students of Madison holds first training in preparation for lobbying day, prioritizes topics concerning mental health, rent control

economic development daily cardinal logo

Source: The Daily Cardinal

Student members of ASM are preparing which topics will be presented to the state legislature on lobbying day to best benefit the UW-Madison student body.

The Associated Students of Madison (ASM) held a pre-lobbying day meeting Thursday evening to prepare for lobbying day on Feb. 22. Topics covered included an overview of the initiatives ASM will be advocating for on behalf of the student body, how to lobby a legislature and the schedule for lobbying day.

ASM is the official student governance body of UW-Madison, representing the needs of over 45,000 students. The student group works to best represent the student body and speak up on legal rights, recommending university policies, budgets and candidates for UW employment.

During this meeting, MGR Govindarajan, the legislative affairs chair for ASM, led a thorough training for students who volunteered to participate and speak with the legislature on lobbying day. Govindarajan advised students on how best to represent themselves and the student body.

“My job is to advocate for students at the local, state and federal levels about what students care about at the moment,” said Govindarajan.

Govindarajan presented two topics ASM will focus on during lobbying day, when students will present their case to the Governor on behalf of the student body.

“Mental health and affordable housing are two issues that really matter in Madison,” said Govindarajan. “It’s not a new issue at all, and it impacts a lot of students.”

Govindarajan shared that ASM considers state issues, as well as other issues that impact a large number of students, and makes sure that the topics presented can be resolved by the legislature.

“On lobbying day we will talk to the legislature, the people who vote on bills,” said Govindarajan.

Prioritizing mental health funding 

ASM previously worked with Gov. Tony Evers’ office to increase funding for mental health services at University Health Services (UHS). According to a UW-Madison Healthy Minds study, 21% of students screened positively for depression overall, and 16% of students screened positively for an anxiety disorder.

Students are deeply affected by their mental health, and students expressed that UHS needs increased resources to provide appointments on time — rather than have a three-week wait period like they currently do, said Govindarajan.

Two years ago, the governor requested $15 million for mental health funding, and then the joint finance committee within the legislature cut that to $0, Govindarajan explained. To prevent this recurrence, ASM is speaking up, he said.

“This is holding people accountable,” said Govindarajan, referring to the upcoming lobbying day.

Govindarajan coached ASM members on how to present these topics of discussion in an impactful and engaging manner when speaking to the legislature. Members were encouraged to bring personal stories and figure out the best way to articulate their ideas to better assist the student body’s needs.

Advocating for rent control

Rising rent in the city of Madison is another area of concern among the student body, according to ASM’s collected data. Students are struggling to keep up with the current cost of living and are forced to spend countless hours early in the fall semester looking for housing, making calls and attempting to make a housing arrangement work in an affordable manner, shared Govindarajan during his presentation.

“The legislature prohibits rent control,” said Govindarajan, referencing the Wisconsin state law that states, “No city, village, town or county may regulate the amount of rent or fees charged for the use of a residential rental dwelling unit.”

The Madison Region Economic Partnership said Dane County needs to produce 4,500 to 5,000 net new units per year to meet growth projections of 100,000 additional residents by 2030. The county’s current population is roughly 561,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Data from the ASM interest form that was sent to the student body and filled out by those interested in joining ASM further proves concern from students, as 80% of respondents voted that mental health and/or rent control are major challenges for the student body. ASM’s lobbying day aims to draw attention to these issues, instilling change for students in Madison.

“This is a good opportunity for students to get involved,” said Govindarajan. “It’s more than just voting. A lot of students vote and that’s really good for getting into the civic process; however, actually speaking to your legislature and creating that connection is really important for students. It’s really exciting to see a lot of people get involved in this.”

ASM meets Thursday evenings and will continue preparing for lobbying day on Feb. 22 in the coming weeks.

Article originally published on