Article Provide by Liz Brodek, Development Director for the City of Wausau
While Wausau may mean “far away place” in Ojibwe, we like to say that it’s in the middle of everything. Centrally located to Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Green Bay, and Madison, Wausau is the urban economic hub gateway to Wisconsin’s Northwoods.
Wausau has positioned itself as the regional economic hub of Central Wisconsin. From acquiring riverfront property for redevelopment and reinvention to assembling greenfield properties for its business campus, Wausau serves every sector of our economy and community.
We are fortunate to both react to needs in our community and proactively work toward growth and innovation. Our public servants are looking forward to forecasting the needs of future generations and what a successful city will look like in 2050 and beyond. This mindset led us to acquire prime riverfront property for redevelopment that optimizes its highest and best use and best supports the tax base. It also prompted the creation of strong public-private partnerships to address our most pressing challenges that require a comprehensive approach, such as childcare and workforce development. Our reactive work comes when we’re approached with an idea or project that needs guidance and support. Our business incubator helps drive these types of opportunities. Supporting innovative, home-grown developments is one of the most important and honorable aspects of what we as economic development professionals do.
Support of these types of independent, locally owned businesses is what prompted Wausau to create its first (and so far only) Business Improvement District (BID) in the early 2000s. The tax collected by the BID goes to support Wausau River District, Main Street America program. Throughout its 20-year history, this public-private partnership has sparked over $100 million in private investment and $32 million in public investment, and over 150 net new businesses, a vast majority of which are locally owned. Fun fact: the tallest commercial building north of Madison is located in downtown Wausau.
Public investment in Wausau’s downtown created a space that everyone in the community knows and loves, the 400 Block. The 400 Block is central to events hosted downtown, including those at our highly internationally, ranked Grand Theater. Events downtown bring approximately 160,000 people and a $12.9 million estimated economic impact into the city each year. With success like this, it’s no surprise that Wausau was named a Great American Main Street, a designation given to three communities throughout the U.S. annually, in 2019.
Our downtown isn’t the only feature that sets Wausau apart in our region. As the urban hub of central Wisconsin, our city is also home to many social services that serve a region as large as 100+ miles in radius. A recent significant achievement was the creation of the Community Partners Campus (CPC). CPC brought eight social services including Catholic Charities, the Neighbor’s Place, the Wausau Free Clinic, Blessings in a Backpack, Wausau Area Mobile Meals, Marathon County Human Services, and more, together under one roof to serve the needs of our most vulnerable people. Created in the aftermath of covid and related supply chain issues and inflation, this project required cooperative and creative financing, with contributions from local foundations, local and federal ARPA funds, and several private donors.
Even with so many amenities to enjoy and be proud of in our community, we hear time and time again that it’s the people that sets Wausau apart.
Our 40,000 residents care deeply about where they live and their neighbors. We are fortunate to have strength in growing population diversity as well, both in age and ethnicity. Wausau is the city with the youngest median age in the region and has been welcoming refugees for decades. Most recently, we’ve welcomed refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Burundi DRC, Somalia, Sudan, and Ukraine, but Hmong were the first to resettle in Wausau in the 1980s. Our Hmong residents share celebrations of cultural traditions throughout the year, but most notably at the annual Wausau Hmong Festival, the fastest-growing southeast Asian festival in the country. This increasing cultural diversity increases connection, strengthens the workforce, and enhances every aspect of our community.
With approximately 100 acres of greenfield development opportunity in our business campus, 20 acres of developable riverfront property, three open TIDs, and several housing projects constructing about 500 new units by 2026, Wausau is consistently working to create opportunities for people and businesses that want to call Wausau “home.”
With so much to tout and be proud of, the thing you hear over and over is that it’s about the people here. Innovative, hard-working, homegrown companies, constantly improving, warmth and generosity.
Liz Brodek, Development Director for the City of Wausau |407 Grant Street, Wausau, WI 54403 | Email Liz | Office (715) 261-6685