It's conventional wisdom that economic dynamism follows (and further attracts) the hip, the creative, the exceptional. But Randy Rose, CEO and president of Enzymatic Therapy, a 300-person manufacturer of dietary supplements, says the key to success is a much humbler thing: drawing good local workers.
Rose, whose firm is based in Green Bay, Wis. (No. 4), credits his company's growth to the high caliber of the managers and rank-and-file workers he hires locally. "These are not only people who have a strong work ethic but they want to develop their careers," he says. "We try to have a learning organization here, and people here want to learn and grow. It makes all the difference in the world."
For some time Wisconsin has had the premier entrepreneurial economy in the Midwest. In addition to Green Bay, the No. 1 midsize city on last year's list, the state's standouts include La Crosse (No. 15) and Madison (No. 38). Even Milwaukee, the big city in the state, is a respectable No. 66. What's behind this success? In large part it's the quality of Wisconsin's public education system. Rose says the local workers he hires are well educated and well trained, at whatever level they are employed. Other Wisconsin business owners say the same. From the assembly line to the laboratory, Wisconsin employers seem particularly pleased with the level of skill and commitment shown by their workers.
Wisconsin also has avoided the problems associated with overconcentration in one industry -- in particular the sensitivity to fluctuations in various marketplaces. This can be seen in the poor ranks for places tightly linked to particular industries -- such as Detroit (No. 213) and Flint, Mich. (No. 271), both of which rely on the auto, and Columbia, S.C. (No. 266), which depends on textiles.
In addition, Wisconsin excels in highly specialized firms in areas such as machine tools, measurement controls, and machinery for making paper products. Many of these smaller manufacturing companies have actually benefited from the explosive growth in China. Between 1999 and 2003, the state's exports to China rose 265%, more than twice the Midwest average and almost three times that for the rest of the country.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin has a low cost of living and exceptional recreational opportunities. And the word is getting out, meaning it's becoming easier to add imported talent. Rose recently hired top managers from Oakland and Chicago. "When I first got here in 2002," he says, "our equity partners said it would be hard to get people here because of the location. What we found was quite the opposite."