Baseline and Trends

To plan where the region goes from here requires a solid understanding of where we’re at now and how we got here. To build this understanding, the Regional Baseline Assessment explores key questions: How many people? Who will live here? How many homes will they require? Where will these homes be located? Where will they work? How will they get around? Will everyone have equal access to opportunity?

Explore the interactive data below by clicking through the tabs. Click here to download the full report!

What is the Greater Madison Region?

Dane County is the geographic and economic center of south-central Wisconsin. All seven of the immediately surrounding counties – Columbia, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Rock, and Sauk – are increasingly connected to Dane County and to each other economically, and they share many natural resources. Our 2015-2016 Values Survey told us that many people in communities outside of Dane County consider themselves in the Madison Region. Where exactly is the line that divides the Greater Madison Region from, for example, the Milwaukee metro region? There is no one good answer, but a person who works, goes shopping, or attends cultural events in and around Madison may well consider themselves part of the region.

How many people?

regional county population growth projections

Dane County is expected to grow by around 157,000 people between 2015 and 2050. The surrounding seven counties could grow by an additional 100,000 people by then. How will communities around the region accommodate all these new residents?

How many homes and houses will they need?


Between 1990 and 2015, 59,000 housing units were added in Dane County. Thanks to the aging Baby Boomer population, smaller household sizes, and other demographic factors, we estimate that the region will need 69,000 additional housing units by 2050.

The land required for these houses, plus the public spaces and civic resources needed to support them, could add up to more than 13,000 acres!

Where will they live?

More than 16,000 acres of land were developed within and on the edges of the region’s urban areas between 1990 and 2010. Since the Great Recession, multifamily residential development has increasingly occurred in the central urban area, while single-family home construction has been strongest in outlying communities.

How many new jobs will we need, and how will this affect the region’s transportation?

The region added more than 116,000 jobs between 1990 and 2015, a faster growth rate than projections in 1990 anticipated. Currently, we project the region will add between 70,000 and 85,000 jobs between 2015 and 2050, but projecting numbers of jobs is a challenge.

The industries likely to grow the fastest over the next several years include education, administrative support, professional and technical services, health care, accommodation and food, information, and construction.

Labor force participation rates are dropping, due in large part to many Baby Boomers aging out of the workforce.

Dane County is likely to remain the employment as well as the population base in the region, but commuters from other counties are likely to occupy an increasingly large share of the total number of jobs in Dane County. In fact, by 2050, roads in Dane County are likely to bear more than 26,000 additional daily commuters from the surrounding areas!

How will they get around?

Since 1990, carpooling and walking have declined in popularity as ways of getting to and from work, while driving alone, taking transit, and bicycling have seen significant increases. As the regional economy grows and changes, communities are discussing ways of providing better transportation options at a regional scale, including Bus Rapid Transit and regional trails for walking and biking.

Will everyone have access to opportunity?

While the Greater Madison Region has a strong economy, not everyone has equal access to opportunity. Inequalities between racial groups and between people of lower and higher incomes persist, particularly when it comes to matters of education, child poverty, and access to jobs and affordable housing. In fact, only one in every twelve residents can access 50 percent or more of the region’s jobs within 45 minutes via public transit, and unemployment for people of color remains stubbornly high.

What do current plans tell us about how we want to grow and change?

A 2012 analysis of comprehensive plans from across the region show that there are areas of broad agreement on some key challenges. These ten “regional building blocks” communicate common themes from all the plans.