Despite positive economic factors in the Madison area–including  low unemployment and proximity to a world-class research institution– two consulting firms say local economies have room to grow and are working on plans to produce jobs. 

The Market Street Services of Atlanta, an outside consulting firm, and Thrive, a non-profit organization focusing on economic development, laid out plans they believe will revitalize certain aspects of the local south central Wisconsin economies.

The new developments have no impact on taxpayers, the report from Thrive said. A federal grant will cover $97,500 of the total $140,000 cost.

The remainder of the cost will be covered by Madison Gas & Electric and American Family Insurance.

The money will go toward creating an eight-month planning process and ultimately a five-year plan for the city, said Jennifer Post Tyler, interim executive vice president of Thrive.

Thrive developed the plans in response to a series of “black marks” on the regional economy. Madison, the report said, has a high cost of living and minimal access to investment capital and income growth.

Despite low unemployment rates, the report said annual average wages in the eight-county Madison region, which totals to $43,871, have not come to parity with the national average, which is $50,492.

While Madison is a big part of the report, the report and plan also includes many counties throughout south central Wisconsin. 

The preliminary blueprint for Madison’s development would take a holistic picture of the city and other regions–including employment, education and growth of minority populations– and compare it to similar areas in the U.S., according to the report. 

The blueprint would then lay out the areas that would be the best targets for development and job growth.

“The Madison region must move forward on some timely decisions about how it can leverage its world-class assets – including the University of Wisconsin-Madison – and what kind of prosperity, talent and communities it will nurture in the coming years,” the report said.

The development’s ultimate goal, the report said, is to make the Madison area a major economic player by “diversifying and advancing” the area’s strengths.

The project also encourages competing more aggressively for jobs in the current economic climate, which has strained global, national and local economies.

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said he expects the private sectors to step up during a time of declining public resources and public employment in the community.

“It follows that I’m optimistic that the good work that has been put into this blueprint will pay dividends in the years to come,” Verveer said.

Tyler said due to the urgency and alarming nature of this economic situation, the use of a national consultant as opposed to a local consultant offered a fresh perspective and would ultimately enable Thrive to understand their weaknesses and improve Wisconsin as a whole.

“Madison is a key economic engine for the state of Wisconsin, and what Madison does can be a great example for the rest of Wisconsin. Hopefully there are also spin-off benefits across the state,” Tyler said.

Due to Madison’s important strategic value to the community and businesses in surrounding areas, the goal of this economic reintegration plan is to take advantage of the economic opportunities offered to Madison as well as make some real change, Tyler said.

Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said Thrive’s economic development report was a very centralized, all-encompassing work plan.

“The plan discusses how we better utilize many of our resources that we have and also paints the picture of what the economic climate is for venture capitals and new businesses in Madison and the surrounding counties,” Resnick said.