Profile of Kewaunee County

Printed from the Official Directory of Kewaunee County April 1996 to April 1997
613 Dodge Street
Kewaunee Wisconsin
Compiled by Edward J. Dorner, County Clerk

Back to Kewaunee County

The following are excerpts from the Overall Economic Development Plan adopted for Kewaunee County by the Kewaunee County Board of Supervisors on January 18, 1977

PROFILE OF KEWAUNEE COUNTY

General Description
Kewaunee County's landscape is generally undulating to gently rolling. It lies on a limestone rock layer known as the Niagara escarpment, which drops sharply toward Green Bay while sloping gently across the county to Lake Michigan. Glacial action was responsible for the outstanding topographic feature, a scenic kettle moraine belt that runs through the central part of the county. This belt extends, almost continuously, southward to Walworth County on Wisconsin' southern boundary.

The county is only moderately urbanized; slightly over one-third of the population resides in two urban centers, Algoma and Kewaunee. Population density of 57 persons per square mile is well above what would be considered typical of Wisconsin agricultural counties.

Algoma, the largest city, is about 114 miles north of Milwaukee. The county is at the north end of the great lakeshore manufacturing district that runs south to Chicago and beyond. It is also located favorably with respect to the Fox River Valley industrial area to the west.

During the period between 1970 and 1975, Kewaunee County increased its population by only 1.43%, with a new migration rate of 2.1% down from 6.4% between 1960 and 1970.

Compared with the state pattern, the county has a higher percentage of its population in the "under 18" group. It has a lower percentage in the 18-44 group, and slight surpluses in the 45-65 and 65 and older groups. Unusual for a rural type county, the median age is slightly under the state median. Fertility is relatively high.

Agriculture has fallen quickly behind manufacturing as a source of employment - 1970 (census) with about 19 percent of the resident workers engaged in farming, compared with 38 percent in factory work. A substantial number of the later group commutes to work outside the county.

Cash income per household is not far below the state average; but it is well to bear in mind that the state figure is heavily weighed by a few highly urbanized counties. The 1970 buying income figure seems low compared with family income data.

With about .43 percent of Wisconsin's population, Kewaunee County had .31 percent of the state's retail sales in 1967. Per capita sales were somewhat low. Relatively strong are sales in the lumber-hardware-farm equipment, and furniture groups. But sales in most categories reflect reasonably well the level of purchasing power in the county. Wholesale trade is small.

Kewaunee County was visited by early French explores, and a trading post was established on the Kewaunee River late in the 18th century. Extensive settlement did not begin until the 1850's. The county was heavily forested, and lumbering was the first large-scale economic activity.

Wood products have long been a major industry in the county, despite the fact that there is not much local timber. Chancel furnishings of outstanding quality are made by a local firm. A tradition was established in woodworking during the 19th century when German craftsmen migrated here. Next to wood products, the metals and machinery groups provide the most manufacturing jobs.

Manufacturing made substantial gains both absolutely and relative to the state between 1958 and 9163. The 1967 figures show comparatively rapid growth between 1963 and 1967.

As is the case generally, the number of farms in Kewaunee County is declining, while the average size per farm and the value of land are increasing. Yet ninety-one percent of the land is still in farms. Average sales per farm are below the state average. Dairy products are by far the largest single source of farm income. Fifteen percent of the land area is in woodlands. Elm and oak lead in sawtimber volume. Sand and gravel are the principal minerals produced.

Kewaunee County has a total of 331 square miles, making it the 65th largest (out of 72 counties) in the state. Clay loams are the dominate soil type found in Kewaunee County. The annual precipitation in the county is 29 inches, roughly two inches under the state average and the average growing season in Kewaunee County is 158 days. Population density in 1970 was 57.3 persons per square mile, considerably below the regional average of 98.5 persons per square mile. The 1960 population was 36.3 percent urban and in 1970, 36.5 percent of the population resided in urban places. Population growth in Kewaunee County during the sixties was fairly equally divided between urban and non-urban places.

Over 90 percent of Kewaunee County's export bases is concentrated in two industrial categories: agriculture and manufacturing. Of the ten largest basic industries, eight are either agrarian or manufacturing oriented with ninth and tenth largest being retail activities. The Kewaunee County workforce as considered in this study represents only 4.00 percent of the regional workforce, yet in all but one of the largest export activities (cheese processing) Kewaunee County accounts for more than 4.00 percent of the employment opportunities. In some cases, Kewaunee County is clearly among the major exporters in the region, namely in metal household goods, general wood products, plywood, and farm products.

The farm sector is a major source of employment, yet it is not one of the leading sources of income for the county. In addition, it should be noted that the soil productivity rating of Kewaunee County in 1961 was 61 compared with the state average of 45. This means that, per acre, Kewaunee County could produce about 35 percent more than could be produced on an average soil in the state, if planted with the same crop. This factor enhances agricultural activities in the county.

The ten largest export activities account for 91 percent of the export employment in the county. The distribution of these activities and their relative abilities to inject dollars into the local economy critical to the county's economic health and stability are due to this high degree of specialization.

The employment multiplier for Kewaunee County is 1.6226, indicating that every two export jobs (jobs in an industry bringing resources into the county) can support approximately one local service type job (a job in an activity which services local demands and needs).

This service sector, or non-basic sector, is the pump which keeps the local economy going. The export sector provides the resources, the basic sector recirculates them through the community in the form of jobs (wages), goods, and services.

It is noteworthy that farming is both a basic and a non-basic activity. Farmers produce many of their own inputs (feed and fertilizer for example) and sell to food processing and dairy plants in the county.

Among the dominant local service industries are doctors, grocery stores, restaurants, new and used car dealers, and general building contractors. In addition, it should be noted that not one manufacturing industry produces a product which is consumed locally to a significant extent. Virtually all manufacturing activity is export oriented and consequently tied directly to national economic surges and declines.

Kewaunee County's economy is oriented toward two main features. The farm sector of the county takes advantage of the soil conditions and the proximity of a major urban market for its dairy products; the manufacturing industries rely heavily on the transportation system and the forest resource of northeastern Wisconsin. These manufacturing activities will be considered in more detail in their urban context and the agrarian trends will be considered when rural Kewaunee County is discussed.

Given the population and employment totals for the county, the employment multiplier is somewhat lower than that anticipated. This is more than likely the consequence of many forces which were not neutralized by the statistical technique which generated the anticipated level. Among these forces are: