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Index looks kindly on Janesville

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JAMES P. LEUTE
October 25, 2008
— Janesville's rank for creating and sustaining jobs has improved among small American cities, but officials admit the numbers might be misleading.

Janesville for 2008 ranked 75th out of 124, the equivalent of 61st out of 100, among small metro areas ranked in the Milken Institute/Greenstreet Real Estate Partners Best-Performing Cities Index.


In the 2007 version of the index, Janesville ranked 152nd out of 179, the equivalent of 85th out of 100.


While Milken lists Janesville in its index, the metropolitan area it considers is essentially all of Rock County.


Among the top performers in Wisconsin for 2008, only Eau Claire topped Janesville in the small-city category. Midland, Texas, moved up from 3rd place to take this year's title as best-performing small metro area.


Doug Venable, Janesville's economic development director, said the Milken report is valuable because it uses a standardized data source to track economic performance.


"If you look at their numbers over time, you can get a feeling for how the local economy is performing, compared to itself and compared to other similar-sized metro areas," Venable said.


But Venable cautions against jumping to conclusions about changes in rankings, primarily because periodic distortions in a local economy are reflected in the data that stretch back to 2001.


In fact, Venable suspects that salary and production ups and downs at the General Motors plant in Janesville might have created anomalies that affected the county's overall ranking.


For example, he said, a retooling of the GM plant would temporarily reduce employee head counts and wages, which then would be exaggerated as growth in years of full production.


It's also possible that Rock County's ranking is based in large part on the high GM wages rather than an influx of wages paid by high-tech companies.


Armen Bedroussian, a co-author of the report, agreed that anomalies in the local auto industry could unduly affect Janesville's overall rankings.


He said the pool of small metro areas surveyed shrunk from 179 to 124 this year, primarily because less data was available from the federal government.


"That makes it difficult to gauge real improvements in the rankings because the pool got smaller," he said.


Bedroussian noted that the Janesville area posted growth in the hospital/nursing services sector, as well as in warehousing and logistics. The area also avoided the effects of the housing downturn that's hurt so many other communities, he said.


"But there is bad news pending with the closing of the GM plant, and that will certainly hurt the economy in the short term," he said.


Among larger metropolitan areas, Provo, Utah, used its high-tech muscle to gain the top spot in the index, which includes other growing technology-based and global trade centers in Utah, Texas, Washington, Alabama and the Carolinas.


Wisconsin's largest metro areas all moved up in the rankings, with Madison ranked 90th, Milwaukee ranked 157th and Green Bay listed 165th among the country's 200 biggest metro areas.


The California-based Milken Institute is a nonprofit, independent economic think tank.



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