Is the Greater Madison Region’s Population Poised to Take Off?

A Greater Madison Vision projects that Dane County’s population will increase by about 157,000 people between 2015 and 2050. If that were to happen, about 670,000 people would live in Dane County by 2050.

But could growth happen faster than official predictions anticipate? Some signs certainly point that direction.

157,000 additional people would be approximately two full Camp Randall stadiums’ worth of new residents.

First, the Madison region stacks up well against top tech industry regions like San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston. In fact, just this week, an economic study reported that the Madison region’s economy is the 13th strongest in the nation. Various firms, investors, analysts, and tech workers are taking notice.

Ranking 6th among the top metros in advanced industry output and 11th for job growth, the Greater Madison Region’s tech industry experienced a 30 percent growth rate, leading the country within that industry.

Second, the recent addition of direct flights between Madison and San Francisco strengthens the connections between Madison and the Bay Area’s tech sector.

If these signs do indeed point to a high-tech economy that’s about to take off, how much additional population growth might we see? Two “what ifs” shed light on that question.

1) What if growth in the region continues its recent, faster pace?
Since 2010, Dane County grew faster than the State of Wisconsin’s official demographic projections. If growth continues at that pace, the county would add about 253,600 people by 2050, an additional 96,000 residents compared to the standard projection.

2) What if the region is at a “tipping point” similar to what other regions have experienced, and population growth accelerates?
The City of Austin, TX has experienced extremely rapid growth in the past generation or two. Austin’s population in 1970 was about 250,000, or about where Madison’s is now. Today, Austin is home to 950,000 people, with over 2 million people in its metro area. Needless to say, Austin’s growth vastly exceeded what the official State of Texas numbers predicted. Austin revised its own growth projections upward based on recent in-migration and thinks that its population by 2040 could be 38 percent higher than the state projections. Austin, like other cities, experienced a huge population and economic boom associated with a rapidly expanding tech and services economy. If we applied that same logic to projections for the Madison region, we could add 350,000 people by 2050.

Current signs point to faster growth than projected. This has implications for how we invest in transportation, what kinds of housing and neighborhoods we build, how we protect the health of our lakes, rivers, and soil, and many other issues. How much will Madison grow? Only time will tell, but it is smart to consider the possibilities.