No doubt, most businesses throughout southeastern Wisconsin were eager to turn the calendar on 2009 and put the Great Recession to rest.
The question now at hand is, “What will 2010 bring?”
Let’s call it like it is. For most local companies, it won’t be easy. It may be a grind. It may be a slog. The job market is likely to get worse before it gets better.
However, there are many signs indicating that the state’s economy has begun to rebound. The recovery won’t be a quick one, but we are seeing some encouraging momentum.
In recent polls, 86 percent of BizTimes.com readers say their company will either add jobs or at least maintain the status quo in 2010, and 76 percent say they are optimistic about how their company will do in 2010.
The number of first-time unemployment claims in the state is falling. The number of company job layoff notices filed with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is falling. The BizTimes Stock Index of local stocks recently soared to a 52-week high.
Looking back at early 2009, it was all we could do to keep up with the plant closures and the mass layoffs cascading throughout the state. The recession closed the General Motors Corp. plant in Janesville and the Chrysler plant in Kenosha in its wake.
Lately, however, Wisconsin has been winning more often on the jobs front. The state has been stringing together these victories like pearls on a necklace in recent months:
- Mercury Marine decided to keep 850 jobs and move several hundred more to Fond du Lac.
- Republic Airways Holdings Inc., the new parent company of Midwest Airlines, will save 800 jobs in Oak Creek and move 800 new jobs to the region in 2010.
- AirTran Airways will expand its Milwaukee hub by adding at least 50 more pilots and 50 more flight attendants. At least eight biotech companies are moving to Wisconsin from Minnesota and other states (Biotechnology is the fastest-growing segment of Wisconsin’s economy, where it is an $8.7 billion industry with 400 companies and 34,000 employees).
- Uline Inc. of Waukegan, Ill., will move across the Wisconsin border to its new headquarters in Pleasant Prairie in 2010, bringing 1,000 jobs.
- Exacto Inc. has moved its headquarters from Illinois to Walworth County.
- North Chicago, Ill.-based EMCO Chemical Distributors Inc. plans to move to Wisconsin, bringing up to 125 new jobs to Pleasant Prairie.
- Bucyrus International Inc. will bring 400 to 500 new jobs to metro Milwaukee after it acquires Terex Corp.
- Telkonet Inc. is moving its headquarters and 50 jobs from Maryland to the Milwaukee County Research Park in Wauwatosa.
- Helios USA, a startup solar panel manufacturer. plans to open a new plant in Milwaukee in 2010.
- Dickten Masch Plastics LLC in Nashotah will receive $293,000 in Economic Development Tax Credits from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce for an expansion project that will create 75 jobs and retain 160 existing jobs in Waukesha County.
The tide is turning for the better in the Badger State.
To be sure, we have our problems, including a $2.71 billion state budget deficit and a dysfunctional Milwaukee Public Schools system that reflects our society’s most disheartening shortcomings. The commercial real estate market for new development is flat, and some of our banks are not exactly on firm financial ground.
And because employment is a lagging indicator, it may take a few more months before we see a complete reversal out the Great Recession.
But the recession is over, and the future is looking brighter. Look for employment gains in the health care, technology, government and green sectors. And if Milwaukee can marshal its act together, with the help of cheerleaders such as Badger Meter Inc. chief executive officer Rich Meeusen leading the way, it can begin to transform itself as a fresh water technology hub that will add further fuel to its economic fire.
The time is now to arise from our foxholes, dust ourselves off and get on with our lives and our businesses in 2010.