Plymouth rated fifth best place to start a business

With a growing skilled workforce and business-friendly tax policies, Wisconsin has many places for entrepreneurs wanting to start a successful business.

NerdWallet analyzed 118 places in Wisconsin, each with a population of at least 5,000. We calculated the overall score for each location based on its business climate and economic health using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Learn more about our methodology at the end of this article.

Proximity to big cities helps — but isn’t a must. Several of the top 10 cities are suburbs of big cities or are close to one. One top community is practically in Green Bay, another is close to Madison. Four are clustered around Milwaukee, and one is almost in Minneapolis. But three of the top cities — Shawano, Waupaca and Plymouth — hold their own without being near major cities.

Eastern and southern Wisconsin win. All but one of the top 10 communities is in the eastern or southern part of the state, with a cluster near Milwaukee. The only top 10 city not in this part of the state is Hudson, which is on the Minnesota border.

1. Ashwaubenon

This Green Bay suburb has a population of just over 17,000, and it has the largest percentage of businesses with paid employees by far among the top 10 (over 64%). The village also has the third most affordable median monthly housing cost in the top 10, at $828 a month. Ashwaubenon is home to Austin Straubel International Airport, which serves nearby Green Bay. The Ashwaubenon Business Association supports business owners through networking opportunities and community events. Businesses will also find resources at the nearby SBDC at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

2. Monona

Surrounded by the city of Madison, Monona boasts the secondhighest percentage of businesses with paid employees in the top 10 (over 48%), meaning nearly half of local businesses offer jobs for the community. The town also has the lowest unemployment rate among the top 10 communities, at an impressive 3.3%. The Monona East Side Business Alliance helps businesses in the area succeed. The proximity to the big city means local entrepreneurs can benefit from Madison’s many business accelerator programs, such as Madcelerator and gener8tor, and incubators such as Common Wealth Development.


Waukesha is the largest community in the top 10 by population, with 70,775 residents. This Milwaukee suburb (about 20 miles from downtown) features the second highest number of businesses in the top 10 list, with 4,777 businesses. Although it doesn’t have the highest number of businesses, it does boast the highest average revenue per business (nearly $4.9 million) and the highest total revenue of business (almost $23.3 million). The city is home to University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, plus the corporate headquarters of companies including ProHealth Care and manufacturers Aries Industries and HUSCO International. GE Healthcare also has facilities here.


Hudson is located in western Wisconsin, about half an hour from Minneapolis-St. Paul. This town has the fourth-highest me- dian annual income among the top 10 communities ($51,180), plus the third-highest number of businesses per 100 people (nearly 15). The Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau serves this community along the St. Croix River.


Plymouth is tied with Pewaukee for the second-lowest unemployment rate in our top 10 list, at 3.4%. This town is about 15 miles from Sheboygan, but it isn’t part of a major metro area (it’s about an hour from Green Bay to the north and Milwaukee to the south). The Plymouth Chamber of Commerce serves as a resource for local businesses.

6. Brookfield

Just a few miles from Milwaukee, Brookfield has the secondlargest population in the top 10, coming in at almost 38,000 people. Despite having fewer residents than Waukesha, Brookfield has the most businesses (nearly 5,800) of our top 10 spots. It also has a low unemployment rate of 3.5%, likely because company headquarters are based here, like Finserv, a financial technology company. With Milwaukee just 12 miles away, Brookfield business owners can take advantage of Milwaukee’s resources for entrepreneurs, such as Startup MKE and The Global Entrepreneurship Collective.

7. Glendale

Just 10 miles from central Milwaukee, Glendale is close to both the big city and the shore. With the city’s close proximity to Milwaukee, businesses can easily access entrepreneurial programs including Scale Up Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. Featuring the thirdhighest median annual income in the top 10 (nearly $53,000), Glendale also has a low unemployment rate of just 3.6%. Shoe company Florsheim is based here, as is Sprecher Brewery.

8. Pewaukee

Tied with Plymouth for the second-lowest unemployment rate, this city also has the secondhighest median annual income in the top 10 list (just over $64,000). North of Waukesha and less than 20 miles from downtown Milwaukee, this city is home to the headquarters of Harken, a sailboat hardware and accessory manufacturer and distributor.


Waupaca is the smallest city by population on the top 10 list, with 6,044 residents. It’s also the second most affordable place on this list, with a monthly median housing cost of $777 — which is likely low because of its location far from major cities. The Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce and City of Waupaca work together to build and develop the local business community.


Shawano has the most affordable median monthly housing costs of the top 10 cities, coming in at $634, which is almost $150 cheaper than the second most affordable place (Waupaca). The city is next to Shawano Lake and about five miles from the Menominee Reservation. The nearest major city is Green Bay, which is about 40 miles away. Shawano County Economic Progress Inc. aims to help build and support businesses in the area. Wisconsin Towns Association, a nonprofit organization that supports local government and towns in Wisconsin, is based in Shawano.

Business climate is 65% of the overall score and it’s based on three metrics from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Average revenue of businesses is 20% of the score. A higher average contributed to a higher overall score.

Percentage of businesses with paid employees is 25% of the score. A higher percentage contributed to a higher overall score.

Businesses per 100 people is 20% of the score. A higher number contributed to a higher overall score.

Local economic health is 35% of the overall score and it’s based on three metrics also from the American Community Survey.

Median annual income is 10% of the score. A higher median contributed to a higher overall score.

Median annual housing costs are 10% of the score. A higher median contributed to a higher overall score.

Unemployment rate is 15% of the score. A lower rate contributed to a higher overall score.

NerdWallet staff writer Emily Starbuck Crone contributed to this article.

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