Economic Report: Fast Start Fuels Optimism

April 27, 2021

(Rock County, WI) The Janesville-Beloit MSA economy is off to a brisk start, signaling that 2021 is projected to keep pace with – if not exceed – Rock County’s development and growth profile. These trends are highlighted in today’s release of the Q1 2021 Rock Ready Index, the area’s leading economic dashboard report.

The annual average unemployment rate for the county, state, and the nation for Q1 was about two percentage points lower than the figures recorded from the last quarter of 2020. While Rock County’s rate of 5.2% was slightly higher than most of its WI metropolitan counterparts, this uptick was linked to the number of residents working in IL – particularly in the Rockford MSA, which had an average unemployment rate of 9.7% during Q1.

During this same time frame, the number of job postings for the region approached 48,000 and nearly 60% of those postings were for jobs in Rock County. Speaking of Jobs in Rock County (, this one-stop employment portal averaged over 400 job postings – from entry to management / executive level – each month during Q1. As a result, more than 35,000-page views were conducted by job seekers visiting that site.

Housing prices continued their upward movement, as Q1 set another record for Average Sale ($205,085) and Median Sale (186,650) prices, respectively. From a sales perspective, the number of transactions during Q1 were trending more than six percent higher than what was recorded in last year’s first quarter. This figure mirrors the same pace as Wisconsin’s statewide home sales, as well.

The County’s sales and use tax collections posted another strong period ($3.98 million), which established a new quarterly record. While observers will automatically point the finger at the federal stimulus checks as the driving force, collections have exceeded the $3.7 million threshold six times out of the last nine quarters. Since collections are historically the strongest during the second half of the year, it’s too early to forecast whether the County’s year-end collections will be able to match or exceed the $15.9 million mark from 2020.

Despite various wonky factors, the economic development pipeline remained stacked with different investment opportunities. While food processing dominated, manufacturing represented 75% of the overall activity level within the pipeline. This industry sector concentration wasn’t a total surprise, as the Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for Q1 2021 averaged 61.4%, which was more than 11% higher than its 2020 counterpart. A PMI reading of 50% or more serves as an industrial expansion indicator. Since this pent-up manufacturing demand is surfacing throughout the U.S., industrial vacancy rates are below five percent nationally and even lower in the Janesville-Beloit MSA.

In response to this appetite and related absorption of industrial and/or warehousing space within the region, investors such as Zilber Property Group (ZPG) have firmly planted their flag in the Janesville-Beloit MSA. As a matter of fact, ZPG’s recent announcement that it will be adding 356,000 SF to its Rock County holdings speaks directly to the volume of market activity. Additional details about the ZPG project are highlighted in this report. 

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. For more information, visit