Metro Milwaukee leads many peer metros in its concentration of worker talent in occupations linked to innovation and economic development, but is trending downward or lags its peers on key metrics like productivity, global exports, and venture capital investment.

These are among the key findings of the newly updated Metro Milwaukee Innovation DataTool, an online interactive available at the Wisconsin Policy Forum website. The tool is meant to help economic development leaders and the community identify the region’s economic strengths and weaknesses, and set priorities for future advancement.

This marks the first update of the interactive DataTool, which debuted in 2019. The tool allows users to access data on 17 economic indicators in five categories: regional talent, idea development, capital formation, startups and small business development, and economic trends. In addition to documenting metro Milwaukee’s progress on each indicator, the tool provides comparison data for 10 peer metro areas.

Key findings from the tool include:

• Scientists and engineers help drive innovation through research and development; in 2020, metro Milwaukee had a higher concentration of them than all but two comparison metros included in our DataTool.

• The number of students completing college programs in STEM fields at colleges and universities in metro Milwaukee has grown considerably since 2011.

• One long-standing weakness of the region is entrepreneurship. For example, on a per-capita basis, metro Milwaukee continued to attract less in venture capital investment in 2020 than nearly all of the comparison regions.

• Until recently, metro Milwaukee was competitive with its peers in its gross domestic product per capita. However, it now ranks near the bottom of the pack on this indicator. Exports are another indicator for which metro Milwaukee is trending in the wrong direction.

The Forum began tracking the four-county (Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha) metro area’s performance on a set of economic indicators more than a decade ago, and we switched from a written report to an online DataTool in 2019. We continue to expand our digital tools that help Wisconsinites explore the opportunities and challenges confronting the state and its communities.

This information is provided to Wisconsin Newspaper Association members as a service of the Wisconsin Policy Forum, the state’s leading resource for nonpartisan state and local government research and civic education. Learn more at

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