Mar 21, 2014

Dane County second in nation in private sector wage increase

Excerpted from The Cap Times
By Mike Ivey

In what local officials call a sign of the area’s robust recovery, private sector wages in Dane County jumped 9.3 percent over the past 12 months, the second largest increase in the nation.

Only San Mateo County, southwest of San Francisco, saw average wages grow at a faster rate, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released this week.

The Dane County wage numbers were included in the quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (CEW), the same that showed Wisconsin 35th among states in private sector job growth.

Areas like healthcare, information technology and education services were driving the pay increase, with wages in those sectors jumping by double digits. Construction wages in Dane County were also up sharply.

Paul Jadin, president of the business boosting Madison Region Economic Partnership or MadREP (formerly Thrive), says the jump in wages here is reflective of the region’s strength in higher-paying, technology-based sectors.

“What is most telling to me is how it shows Dane County doesn’t rely on manufacturing as much as the rest of the state,” he says.

Manufacturing wages in Dane County were up only 2.7 percent over the past year, with about 24,000 workers in that sector out of a population of 503,000.

Ken Harwood, who edits Wisconsin Development News, credits Epic Systems for contributing to the wage growth. The Verona-based medical records giant is the Dane County’s largest private sector employer with more than 6,000 staffers.

“Epic is bringing in all these kids and paying them $50,000 or $60,000 right out of college,” he says.

But Aaron Olver, economic development director for the city of Madison, was quick to caution that Epic Systems accounts for only 2 percent of total employment in Dane County and doesn’t account for the entire pay boost.

“While Epic certainly has an important impact, this top-line growth in wages reflects a more robust economy,” says Olver.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi cheered the numbers, saying it shows the attractiveness of the region, its outdoor recreation, arts scene and diverse communities.

“Dane County leads the state in high-tech employment growth,” he says. “We have a culture of collaboration and innovation that suits this industry very well.”

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