Communities grow as economies diversify
Through the years, communities become known for certain products that helped build the population. Stevens Point became known as the “Gateway to the Pineries,” reflecting the city’s reliance on the logging industry. In those days, saw mills lined the Wisconsin River as the logs floated in, and boards and millwork rolled out on wagons.
Before long, the forestry resources for lumber thinned out, and the mills along the river disappeared. However, new businesses arrived to fill the void for jobs, offering greater diversity so the community wasn’t reliant on only one product.
Many communities throughout Wisconsin may have grown up reliant on one industry, then suffered through difficult times when a major industry left town. Last year the smaller city of Ripon, known for years as the home of “Rippin’ Good Cookies,” lost the cookie factory and its top tourist draw, the cookie outlet store, when the plant shut down. But existing industries expanded, mostly filling the void.
Before that Wisconsin Rapids lost many of the paper mill jobs that had been the economic bedrock of the community, and Janesville lost the General Motors assembly plant. Of course, “The Beer Capital of the World” has lost most of its major breweries in the last several decades, plus some other major manufacturers. Yet those communities continue to attract and grow new industries.
In recent years, the Portage County area also suffered the loss of jobs at paper mills and the closing of the Whiting mill owned by NewPage. Last year also saw the closing of the former Copps Distribution Center, but new employment opportunities have opened.
TravelGuard built a new facility, and Skyward will soon be moving into a new facility as it expands. Berkshire-Hathaway moved into town, and Ki Mobility, another new industry, is constructing a new facility to handle increased demand.
Years ago, especially during the lumber and mining booms, once the major industry closed the communities became ghost towns, populated only by the deteriorating buildings left behind.
Now communities seem capable of surviving hard knocks. They’ve become diversified in their employment opportunities. They’ve become resilient, a necessity in modern times.
– Gene Kemmeter