Connected to the World
Juneau County, WI
Juneau County is located in the state of Wisconsin, just thirty minutes north of the famous Wisconsin Dells area with its scenic glacier-created gorge. Situated three hours from Minneapolis and three and a half hours from Chicago, this well-positioned piece of paradise has the most beautiful landscape filled with bluffs, forests, prairies and lakes.
With lots of small town appeal and a population of 26,000, Juneau County’s rural setting is the perfect place for reconnecting with nature while remaining connected to the rest of the world.
Juneau County was once a logging area along the Wisconsin River, and its village of Camp Douglas was originally a logging camp. “Because of water and different lakes and streams found in Juneau County, we also had a lot of mills,” says Terry Whipple, executive director of Juneau County Economic Development Corporation (JCEDC). “That was the big thing. Juneau County was somewhat of a logging empire.”
Today, Juneau County has a vibrant and diverse economy featuring manufacturing, agriculture, and government activity, to name only a few sectors. “We’re known for our stainless steel high-quality manufacturing – making everything from tanks for the brewing industry to tanks for the milk industry to even the trucks that haul milk,” explains Whipple.
The county prides itself on having excellent welders. Over the last eighty years, there have been a plethora of companies in the county that require high-end welding, which has resulted in many people taking up welding and perfecting that trade.
Juneau County’s landscape is also incredibly diverse and beautiful and offers many ways for people to enjoy nature at its finest. “We have nature trails, horseback riding trails; we have four different bike trails throughout the county. One of them is the famous Elroy-Sparta bike trail which was considered to be one of the first rail-trails in the nation,” says Whipple. Rail-trails make use of disused railroad tracks.
The area is home to the second and fourth largest lakes in the state of Wisconsin: Petenwell and Castle Rock respectively. Juneau County’s topography also includes scenic bluffs and the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge which consists of approximately 44,000 acres. “There are a lot of people who come from all over the country, who have a second home in Juneau County or choose to retire here, in lovely homes around the lakes,” adds Whipple. Of the communities that make up Juneau County, there are only four with populations above 1,000. The county seat is Mauston, with a population of about 4,500 and is Juneau County’s largest community.
In addition to its natural beauty, the county is known for its entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. “We are the founders of the Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club (I&E Club), which has since spread around the nation,” explains Whipple. “So, we boast of having some great innovators in the fields of organics, alternative green energies, internet technologies, and even gourmet cupcakes.
“We wanted to bring back that culture of innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Whipple. “In so many communities failure is considered a bad thing, and would-be entrepreneurs facing challenges hunker down, keep silent, and vow to never take risks again. Our I&E Club breaks through this and celebrates failures as much as successes because they’re such rich learning experiences. When someone starts to fail others jump in to help or share wisdom or offer networking opportunities or whatever s/he may need to succeed.
“So, we started the I&E Club to bring back that culture where the whole community participates in helping innovation and entrepreneurship happen,” he says. “And it’s made quite an impact on Juneau County. We’ve moved up tremendously in our state’s rankings over the past decade – especially in economic measures, because of our renewed entrepreneurial and innovative spirit and culture.”
With approximately 750 active members, Juneau County’s Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club is very dynamic and has fostered a culture in which people are safe to explore their ideas, whether they are working as an inventor an entrepreneur or employee within a company. “Members come from all over the state. There are other clubs in other counties, but we were the first. It all started here, and we then shared our model with others,” adds Whipple.
With a vast amount of very affordable land for building, as well as an excellent workforce of entrepreneurial, innovative minded people who have a can-do spirit, Juneau County now attracts new high-tech innovations. “For example, from Illinois, we have a company that is moving here that utilizes ultraviolet light for sterilization in the food industry,” explains Whipple. “Another neat thing that we’ve just attracted is the Woodside Sports Complex – a $38 million amateur sports complex of Olympic quality and probably one of the finest amateur sports complexes in the nation.”
In the three years that it has been open, the Woodside Sports Complex generated an economic spin-off as people from around the nation and the world travel to Juneau County to watch or participate in sporting events such as baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and many other amateur domestic and international sports teams. This is great for tourism, and this year, a one-hundred-room hotel was added to the complex.
One of the biggest surprises about Juneau County, however, especially given its size and rural nature, is its technology. “It’s got the nickname of Gig Valley,” explains Whipple. “We support technology. We have one of the first gigabyte broadband capacity areas where even a little town like Camp Douglas, with its population of six hundred, has fiber optic capacity brought to every home. You can’t beat that.”
There’s definitely something to be said for having the fastest internet connectivity in the world, to the world, from an extremely rural and beautiful area like Juneau County. Nature surrounds one, yet one is just as plugged in as if one were in Chicago. “Our gigabyte capacity allows one to conduct business anywhere in the world from a secluded forest retreat or a cabin on Castle Rock Lake.”
Juneau County also has easy access to transportation. “We have the Interstate 90/94 that passes right through the heart of Juneau County, heading to St Paul, Minneapolis and Chicago, and three Class A Railroads. There are three proximal airports: the Volk Field Air National Guard Base (with the longest runway in the country), the Mauston – New Lisbon Union Airport, and the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison (one hour away).”
Juneau County has also garnered lots of attention for its new Entrepreneurial/Leadership charter high school, referred to as iLEAD. “JCEDC partnered with some Mauston school district teachers to found this entrepreneurial/leadership charter school,” explains Whipple.
iLEAD is located within the Mauston High School building “We have our own entrance,” explains Whipple. “We have a partnership with the Mauston School District, but we are our own school. We can take up to forty full-time students, and we’re project-based, so the kids actually develop their own project, and the teachers work the entire curriculum into that project, whether it is math, English, science, et cetera.”
“The kids graduate and can either go onto post-secondary school, start their own business, or begin their career,” adds Whipple. “It’s an alternate option to high school where we teach these kids how to manage their own education, because we know that in the future, things are going to be changing fast, and careers and industry are going to disappear and spring up overnight. When that happens, these kids are going to have to manage their own education, because they may have to change what they do (for a living) many times.”
A forward-thinking community, Juneau County is proud of all it has accomplished. “A little over six months ago, the Federal Reserve out of Minneapolis did a study on this region, and Juneau County was one of the fastest to bounce back after the great recession,” says Whipple. “That shows our resilience.”
“And we plan to continue to bring in new technology,” adds Whipple. “We can see that within the next ten years, there’s going to be rapid change. So, our workforce needs to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies and the new changing economic environment. This is the main reason why we continually want to draw technology to Juneau County – to be manufactured, developed, and innovated.”
“Juneau County is quite modern in a lot of ways,” says Whipple. “But it still has that quaint country flavor, and it’s not overly crowded.” Juneau County residents get the best of both worlds; they’re able to do business and work worldwide, all from a gorgeous, quiet, natural setting.
With Juneau County’s vibrant, diversified economy, beautiful surroundings, innovative workforce, entrepreneurial spirit and global connectivity, it’s definitely worth a closer look!