Economic Gains Reported During the Pandemic

October 29, 2020

(Rock County, WI) Even in the midst of the pandemic, the Janesville-Beloit MSA economy managed to post a really strong quarter. These outcomes, as well as trends, are highlighted in the Q3 2020 Rock Ready Index.

Despite the unemployment spikes caused by COVID, Rock County has reported five consecutive months of declining unemployment rates. While still somewhat elevated, September’s rate of 5.2% was 2.5% lower than the national average; and lower than 290 other metro areas throughout the U.S. Granted, certain industries continue to shed jobs. However, other sectors have doubled-down on hiring activities during these ever evolving times.

Case in point: the number of regional job postings in Q3 exceeded the 30,000 mark and more than half of these postings were attributed to Rock County employers. Not surprisingly, the majority of these openings were associated with the Transportation & Material Moving (i.e. logistics) occupational category. Meanwhile, job openings attributed to Healthcare and Production occupations continued to be well represented, too.

The trajectory for residential pricing continued to push upward, as Q3 set new records for average ($215,031) and median ($196,333) sale prices, respectively. As a matter of fact, both price points established new, all-time highs for the county and when compared to the same time period in 2019, the current Q3 median sale prices were nearly 12.5% percent higher. While Q3’s residential transactions and listings were higher than the previous two periods, they remained relatively unchanged from a year ago. Buyers and sellers alike are increasingly becoming acclimated to the velocity and pricing of Rock County’s residential market. Furthermore, local units of government – such as the Village of Orfordville – are taking note and responding by implementing proactive residential development policies.

Another unforeseen economic upside during these unprecedented times can be found in the County’s sales and use tax collections. Whether attributed to spending-in-place or ordering-from-one’s place, the totals for Q3 represented the highest figures ever recorded in Rock County. At $4.3 Million, these collections were nearly 23% higher than last quarter, and 10.26% higher than the same time frame a year ago. The totals for July and August, in particular, represented two out of the three highest monthly collection periods for the county. An uptick in consumer spending is occurring at the national level too, as September marked the fifth straight month of retail sales growth. If Rock County’s trend holds true, year-end collections for 2020 could surpass $15 Million: representing yet another new record.

The economic development pipeline, more so than any other economic indicator in Q3, carried most of the pandemic’s weight. Specifically, the overall volume of activity and its corresponding project attributes (i.e. investments and employment) were dampened by national COVID-19 and presidential election sentiments. While the Purchasing Managers’ Index has enjoyed five consecutive months of rising values, industrial production in the U.S. fell in in September for the first time since April 2020; and manufacturers and investors alike have been increasingly parking and/or reallocating their capital expenditures. As a result, the number of development prospects in the pipeline is leaner than previous quarters. Nonetheless, record-low industrial vacancy rates and disruptive market forces suggests that strong, pent-up demand is on the horizon.

The featured economic development project in the Q3 Rock Ready Index is the Lincoln Academy, which will be located on Beloit’s Eclipse Center Campus. The Academy, which has a projected opening date of fall 2021, is an independent public charter K4 through 12 school. Extra math and literacy instruction, as well as other academic and experiential career readiness offerings; and comprehensive parental and/or guardian communication and engagement processes; will serve as operational foundations for the Academy. 

The Rock Ready Index (RRI) is a quarterly economic development dashboard compiled and distributed by the Rock County Development Alliance. The RRI covers four topical areas: Workforce (Job Postings and Unemployment Rates), Real Estate (Residential, Commercial or Industrial) Trends, Sales (Tax Collection) Activities and a snapshot of the ED Pipeline’s growth and/or investment opportunities. Each Index also includes a Project Profile section, which highlights project-specific news during a given quarter.

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