Strong Finish to Strange Year

February 2, 2021

(Rock County, WI) Despite the challenging, as well as turbulent, national landscape the Janesville-Beloit MSA economy notched a number of new records and finished the year in an overall strong position. These pace-setting trends are highlighted in the Q4 2020 Rock Ready Index, the area’s leading economic dashboard report.

The annual average unemployment rate for the county, the state and the nation finished 2020 at higher than normal levels – specifically between four and five percentage points above the rates from 2019. As a matter of fact, these elevated levels haven’t been present in the economy since 2013. Fortunately, the majority of the area’s pains were concentrated in Q2 – where the unemployment rate averaged 13.16%. Fast forward, the county’s unemployment rate in Q4 averaged 5.3% and when compared with Wisconsin’s metropolitan areas, this figure settled near the midpoint between the highest and the lowest. Meanwhile, the communities south of the Stateline along the Jane Adams Memorial Tollway and the Kennedy Expressway recorded considerably higher rates that ranged from 5.9% to 6.9%.

Elevated rates aside, regional job postings surged above the 40,000 mark. Not surprisingly, these “Help Wanted…….Immediate Openings” spikes were fueled by intense demand to fill healthcare, transportation / material moving and production related occupations. As such, online employment boards – such as – were populated with job postings that routinely promoted above average wage and benefits packages. During this same time frame, a number of employers began actively exploring and/or implementing workforce development strategies to address fundamental labor supply issues.

The area’s housing market remained extremely brisk, as pricing during 2020 set new annual and Q4 records. Compared to the same time frames in 2019 and 2018, the County’s 2020 average sale price experienced gains of 12% and 28%, respectively. Historically low mortgage rates, pushing into the sub 2.5 percent range, coupled with low inventories in specific price ranges, kept the area’s transaction velocity and volume very active. While nearly 350 single-family permits were issued countywide for new home starts during 2020, an equal amount of pent-up demand for market (and below market) rate, multi-family units remained constant throughout the Janesville-Beloit MSA too. An added bonus is that a number of these apartment projects represented infill or redevelopment projects, particularly those concentrated in the central business districts that most definitely could use an additional foot traffic boost during the new year.

While larger organizations with well-oiled supply chains and last-mile distribution networks thrived during 2020’s online environment, smaller niche players found their grove too. As a result of this collective energy, the second half of the year for Rock County generated new quarterly and year-end records – which were about 8% and 11% higher than collections from 2019 and 2018, respectively. For the most part, these gains tracked at and/or above those figures reported nationally. Although the influx of federal stimulus dollars certainly made an impact, the trajectory of the County’s sales tax collections were already poised to breach the $15 Million dollar mark during 2020. Whether those collections would have jumped over $1 Million dollars in a single year without that federal boost, though, remains TBD.

The economic development pipeline, probably more so than any other economic indicator, carried the majority of the pandemic’s weight during the calendar year. As a result, the volume of activity was about 50% lower than its regular or normal annual level. Considering that Q4 2020 represented some of the strongest comparable Q4 figures dating back to 2015, though, there is cause for optimism that 2021 could be a surprisingly active year for the industrial and warehousing markets. Further evidence of these opportunities can be traced back to the Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index year-end report, which noted a consistent trend among the 10 sub-components that represent the overall PMI index.

Speaking of industrial and market opportunities, the featured Q4 Rock Ready Index project is Carl’s Place – which is expanding and relocating its business in Milton’s Crossroads Business Park. As a DIY solutions provider, Carl’s Place manufacturers large screens for home theater, golf simulators and entertainment venue applications. In addition its custom screen fabrics, the company also offers a suite of edging and hanging accessories – as well as turnkey kits – to enhance the overall visual experience of its products. A City of Milton Tax Increment Finance package facilitated this 56,250 SF project, which will enable Carl’s Place with enough future expansion room to eventually grow into 90,000 SF.

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