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Innovation Drives Economy in Madison, WI Region

The Madison, WI region's economy is fostering innovation and growth in traditional industries while creating new clusters of companies in leading-edge fields, including life sciences and design and technology.

By John Fuller on May 12, 2014

Madison, WI
Madison / Jeff Adkins

John Deere, the iconic maker of lawn care products, and Exact Sciences, the molecular diagnostics company developing new technology for the early detection of colon cancer, have something important in common.

Both are thriving in the eight-county Madison Region, where a diverse and dynamic economy fosters innovation and growth in traditional industries while creating new clusters of companies in leading-edge fields. And they aren’t alone.

The region is home base for a number of companies with nationally or globally recognized names, including Internet retailers Lands’ End and American Girl; Colony Brands, one of the nation’s largest direct marketers famous for its cheeses, sausages and other products; and Epic Systems, the health-care software company.

All are attracted by a supportive business environment and an unsurpassed quality of life, says Paul Jadin, president of the Madison Regional Economic Partnership.

“Offering a diverse quality of experience, the Madison Region is a place where dynamic, talented, hardworking people want to be. Our urban and rural communities create opportunities for sports, arts and culture, family activities, and outdoor recreation – all within easy access and at a more affordable rate than many other major markets,” he says.

Assets Foster Success

Businesses throughout the region benefit from an array of assets, including world-leading research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and strong K-12, technical and higher education systems that prepare workers not only for the jobs of today, but of tomorrow as well. A workforce that embodies the Midwestern work ethic, affordable land and local officials who know how to get things done are additional key benefits, Jadin says.

“The business climate in the Madison Region is built for success. At the local, regional and state levels, our economic development programs and resources support growing businesses through tax and regulatory reforms, workforce training assistance, and access to loans, grants and venture capital,” he says.

Kevin Conroy sees the region’s advantages every day. The president and CEO of Exact Sciences and, before that, the leader of Third Wave, another local molecular diagnostics company, he says having an address within the region has been crucial to success.

Exact Sciences is the developer of Cologuard, a noninvasive test of the early detection of colon cancer and precancerous polyps.

“The entrepreneurial culture is strong in Madison. There is great support for startups and other companies looking to change and revolutionize industries from health care to high tech,” Conroy says.

World-Leading R&D

Madison’s entrepreneurial culture is strengthened by the presence of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the nation’s leading research universities, he says.

With more than $1.1 billion in R&D expenditures each year, the university consistently ranks in the top five schools nationally in spending and patent generation. The university produces a steady stream of talented graduates, as well.

“UW provides companies like Exact Sciences with graduates who are both highly trained and strongly infused with a sense of discovery and curiosity that benefits the companies headquartered here, and helps to make this city and region a tremendous place to live and work,” Conroy says.

The region’s advantages extend to its traditional industries like Deere & Company. The company’s plant in Horicon has been part of the community for more than a century. The factory produces lawn tractors, mowers, Gator utility vehicles and other products.

“We have many employees whose families are multigenerations with the Horicon Works. Many of our employees, employee family members and relatives own our products, and they take great pride in building high quality, market-leading products with the John Deere name on it,” says Steve Johnson, manager of the Horicon factory.

“With the over 100-year history in Dodge County, we have been able to work with, develop and grow many suppliers that support our business on a daily basis and have become valuable partners for us to work with,” he says.

The Madison Region’s density and diversity of business makes it an attractive place for businesses to start, expand or relocate, Jadin says.

The region’s legacy industries of agriculture and advanced manufacturing continue to remain competitive through forward-thinking technologies and applications. Meanwhile, leading-edge fields such as life sciences and information technology are building a strong foothold thanks to the Madison Region’s capacity for research and innovation paired with a high concentration of entrepreneurs, he says.

“It is our belief that the density of jobs and companies in the innovation sectors has created an environment in which our current rate of growth will beget higher rates of growth and more opportunities for attracting new business,” Jadin says.

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