By Rob Kleman, executive director, Oshkosh Area Economic Development Corp.
I often find that Oshkosh feels sorry for itself. Wish lists are full of desires for more chain department stores and restaurants. The perception of many is that we are not growing to the extent of our neighboring cities in Northeast Wisconsin.
It’s simply not true. The Oshkosh Area Economic Development Corp. (OAEDC) recently compiled new commercial and industrial construction totals for the past six years. The numbers come from the State Department of Revenue and show that during the past six years, Oshkosh had $297 million in new commercial construction, more than Appleton, Green Bay, Fond du Lac, Neenah, Ashwaubenon and Grand Chute. Oshkosh also led the way in industrial construction during those same six years, with just under $46.4 million in new industrial construction, higher than any of those same cities. Of significance is that the State of Wisconsin is not required to report construction numbers, so these totals do not include nearly $60 million in construction at UW Oshkosh.
It’s important to note that two of those cities—Appleton and Green Bay—are larger than Oshkosh in population and yet did not expand in either commercial or industrial construction at the same rate as Oshkosh. For example, Oshkosh’s new commercial construction per capita was $4,495, compared to $2,572 in Appleton and $1,566 in Green Bay.
The elephant in the room when it comes to local economic development is the Town of Grand Chute in Outagamie County. This is, of course, the township where much of the Appleton area’s retail and commercial space is concentrated. It’s where the Fox River Mall calls home.
And so, OAEDC compiled the same numbers for highly developed locations in both the Appleton and Green Bay areas. You may be surprised to know that Oshkosh still holds its own against these areas. Yes, when you combine the City of Appleton and the Town of Grand Chute, total new construction equals $310 million. But wait. That’s only $13 million more than Oshkosh, and taken per capita, Oshkosh still outpaces that area—Appleton/Grand Chute’s new commercial construction is just $3,316 per capita.
Green Bay and Ashwaubenon, taken together, did not expand at the rate of Oshkosh in new commercial construction, although they did record higher industrial construction totals. There, $57 million of new industrial construction took place during the six years, but again, its per capita total of $640 is lower than Oshkosh’s $701 per capita total.
Quite often, Oshkosh hangs its head, almost apologetically for perceived shortcomings. Yet the city has so much to offer. We have a thriving outlet mall, a “Miracle Mile” of stores and restaurants along Highway 41, a revitalized downtown with unique cafes and shops. We are home to the third largest state university and a technical college that boasts three locations in our city. We are the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company—Oshkosh Corporation. And, we attract more than 1 million visitors every year thanks to EAA, Country and Rock USA, Lifest and many others.
So many cities want to be us, Oshkosh. Don’t apologize.
Total construction numbers can be viewed online.