So you’re off to Wisconsin, eh? Real good, then. But before you go, we went ahead and got you something. We’ve crammed this fun little mover’s guide full of useful stats, history lessons, potential day-trip attractions and clues about the mysterious world of Wisconsin. And in the end, you should feel as comfortable as flannel peejays that you’ve made the right decision. Just make sure you're covered with an affordable home insurance policy. Let’s go.
Wisconsin’s most well-known for two things, cheese and the TV hit That ‘70s Show. This was a popular show that always began with a killer theme song that shouted, “Hello, Wisconsin” and usually ended with a bunch of small-town high schoolers giggling in a cloudy basement. And the cheese, well, that pretty much speaks for itself.
Unofficially nicknamed America's Dairyland for being one of the nation's leading dairy producers, Wisconsin is the source of over 3.17 billion (yes, with a ‘B’) pounds of cheese annually. And locals embrace every flavor down to the last curd, even going so far as to embrace the nickname “cheesehead” with fanatic pride. Just tune in to any Green Bay Packers game and you’ll see thousands wearing foam crowns of cheese and cheering wildly.
Wisconsin is also often called The Badger State, though it’s not actually an “official’ nickname—the state doesn’t “technically” have one, in fact. But you know what we learned? The nickname The Badger State really has nothing to do with the animal. Back in the 1830s, there was a large lead-mining boom in Illinois.
The “Sconnie” miners who went to work the mines didn't live in houses, but in temporary caves cut into the hillsides. These were called badger dens, and the miners were called badgers. The miners brought this nickname back with them to Wisconsin and, voila. What a twist, huh? The state also has real-life badgers, too, which is the official state animal and the University of Wisconsin’s mascot, but it’s all based on those 19th century miners.
The lead mines, and industry, have long since gone away, but don’t worry, there are plenty of other great job opportunities here in Wisconsin for you these days.
Now, as you can imagine, America’s Dairyland puts a strong emphasis on the dairy industry, but Wisconsin isn’t just about milk. There’s actually a huge mix of great careers out there just waiting to be milked.
Let’s start with some numbers. The current unemployment rate is only 2.9%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it’s been on a nice, steady decline since the end of 2009. And the state’s current minimum wage is $7.25/hour, tied with the federal minimum, according to minimum-wage.org.
When it comes to what’s hot in Wisconsin, it’s rarely the weather. But the biggest up-and-coming career fields include: operations analyst, personal care assistant, business analyst, industrial mechanic, taxi driver, web developer and marine mammal trainer (aww). And when it comes to rakin’ in the big bucks, the highest-paying career choices include: surgeon, OB/GYN, pediatrician, anesthesiologist, dentist and podiatrist.
With such a low unemployment rate and a number of up-and-coming career fields, the opportunities here in Wisconsin are looking pretty bright, we’d say. Plus, you’ve got cities like Milwaukee (the country’s 31st largest), Madison and more that are full of diverse opportunities galore. The job scene’s so nice here, in fact, that about 22,566 people moved here in 2017 just to be a part of it, and all the rest Wisconsin has to offer.
Now, if you’re from the South, you make think “Sconnies” all live in igloos or barns or something. Well, maybe some do, but there’s a whole world of housing options here that you’ll be more than comfortable in. So let's check it out together.
To start, Wisconsin’s current median home value is $179,600, with values up 6.5% over the previous year. The median price of homes sold is $175,900, with homes currently on the market selling for around $209,900. Of course, if you’d rather rent a home than buy, you’ll be paying around $1,200/month.
Fans of architecture from the mid-1900s are in luck— the major decade of housing development in The Badger State was the fabulous '50s. But if you’re not into that mid-century charm, there’s also plenty of new construction going on around Wisconsin, too. In the south-central area, in/around Madison, and further east to Milwaukee is where you’ll find the majority going on. There’s also plenty of hard hats workin’ hard up around Oshkosh and Green Bay and out west by Eau Claire, too.
And even if apartments are more your speed, you’ll still find a ton of great, super-reasonable options all around. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s biggest city, you'll find one-bedrooms for an average of $1,009/month. In Madison, the state’s capital and home of the University of Wisconsin, you’ll be paying about the same, with one-beds going for about $1,017/month. In Kenosha and Racine—right between Milwaukee and Chicago—you’ll pay a bit less, between $707/month and $833/month.
So, whether it’s a mid-century fixer-upper, a metropolitan loft or a college-town studio, you’ll find it here in Wisconsin. And, believe us, after looking at the housing markets in a number of different US states, those prices sound pretty great. But one of the most important factors worth considering when picking out a new place is the neighbors. So what will your new Wisconsin neighbors be like?
There are currently 5,818,049 Wisconsinites. They describe themselves as “open and welcoming to out-of-towners,” very “tight-knit with lifelong friendships,” and "extremely outgoing.” They also boast about their “conservative side,” a “fierce sense of state pride and loyalty,” and claim to be the true winners of the "nice-off" competition with their Minnesotan neighbors to the west.
And like Minnesota, there’s a lot of water around here. Lakes, rivers, ponds and more keep the residents well-occupied through each and every season. Apparently everyone here also either has their own cabin on Lake Michigan, or knows someone who knows someone who does.
But when it comes to get-togethers, tailgating at Packers games comes above all else. It’s where the brats are smokin’, the beer is always cold, and the fans can brag about their 13 championships, more than any other team in NFL history.
Taking full ownership of a "casual lifestyle," Wisconsinites enjoy hiking, hunting and fishing. In fact, hunting season openers and fishing openers are huge events here, and many offices and businesses close to allow their employees to partake. Hiking and biking are also huge here. And in the winter, those same trails make way for snowmobiles and cross-country skiiers. And that’s something you’ve gotta appreciate. No matter the season, Wisconsin makes great use of all it has to offer.
In the 2nd half of the 19th century, German settlers were the largest wave of immigrants to land in Wisconsin, and that has definitely influenced many of the local culinary staples. Some of the most popular dishes, sides and noshes around here include: bratwurst, pickles, fried fish (self-caught), potato pancakes and cheese curds (fried or not). And the eating here is a total social thing, done in groups at cookouts, tailgates, church basements and more. A great way to get in close with a new tribe of friends, eh?
America's Dairyland Trivia
Now, whether you’re tailgating with a few new friends, or you’re trying to warm up your neighbor for a cabin invite, you’ll need a few icebreakers. Here are some other cool things we came across in our research that are sure to get you in close with the locals.
Some of the first inhabitants of Wisconsin were the Winnebago, Menominee and Dakota Native American tribes. You’ll see a lot of that cultural influence all over the state, especially in the city names. And in the political world, Wisconsin was the birthplace of the Republican Party, which came about from a meeting in Ripon to oppose the expansion of slavery in 1854.
The state's also home to the inventors of the typewriter, bone marrow transplants, the first gasoline-powered auto, the blender, the electric guitar, the snowmobile (of course), kindergarten and the hairdryer (because you don’t want to be outside with wet hair in a Wisconsin winter). The Badger State is also home to the Polka Hall of Fame, Chris Farley and Steve Miller, the “Joker” himself.
The state produces 15% of the nation's milk and has the largest percentage of German-American residents in the country. There are more than 6,000 named lakes here, and 47 state parks, as well. Milwaukee has been nicknamed the City of Festivals, and holds events for everything from music and cultural festivals, to beer and cheese festivals.
Aside from a cameo in Wayne's World where Alice Cooper schooled Wayne and Garth on the origins of the word ‘Milwaukee,’ several other famous movies were set and/or filmed in Wisconsin. The list includes movies like BASEketball, Dogma, Lars + The Real Girl and The Great Outdoors. Hollywood just loves them some ‘Sconsin.
Can't-Miss Wisconsin Fun + Activities
Like we said earlier, no matter what season it is, Sconnies take full advantage of all the state has to offer. So let’s talk about some of the favorite local sights and attractions.
Here are a few of the state's don't-miss activities:
- Summerfest: The "World's Largest Music Festival" has been held annually in Milwaukee for over 50 years. Over 900,000 attendees enjoy 11 days packed with more than 800 acts of all kinds. You’ll probably want to bring a pretty thick wallet.
- Ice Age National Scenic Trail: This hiking trail sets itself apart from all the rest because it traces the edge of a giant glacier, with many rock formations and potholes left in the aftermath. The 1,200-mile trail crosses numerous local parks, state parks and forests, as well as state wildlife and nature areas.
- The House on the Rock: This inn and resort/house in Spring Green was built in the '40s by Alex Jordan, who was looking to create a personal getaway. Inspired by the architectural style of Frank Lloyd Wright, this massive house features some truly bizarre stuff, like the world's largest indoor carousel and even a room with an enormous breaching whale. One of the most popular sections is probably the ‘Infinity Room,’ which juts out 218 feet over the mountainside without any support underneath. The House on the Rock is said to attract more visitors every year than any other spot in the state.
- Shorewood Ghost Train: Before shutting down in ’63, the route of today's Oak Leaf Trail was a railway between St. Paul Minnesota and Chicago for a historic train, the Twin Cities 400. Half a century later, an "artistic sensory experience" was created to simulate the sound, feel and appearance of the historic train passing over a bridge. Twice per night now, visitors can experience a train sound so loud that it vibrates the ground beneath their feet, and lights that rush at and past them to simulate the charging train.
- Wisconsin Dells: Billed as the “Waterpark Capital of the World," this childhood mecca is miles and miles of waterparks, resorts, ziplines, golfing and duck boat tours. For folks in the landlocked Midwest, this is the place to be when the ocean is just too far away.
Pros and Cons of Living in The Badger State
When it comes to Wisconsin, no one really understands it quite like the folks who live there, so why don’t we hear what they have to say about their home state.
Pros (so say the locals):
- Madison: In 2018, this city was ranked the #22 "Best Place to Live" out of 25. The poll was based on overall quality of life, considering factors like health rankings (21st in the nation), crime (#15), average commute time (21.6 minutes) and overall well-being (Madison scored 121 points while the national average is 21 points). If that's not incentive enough to move here, we don't know what is.
- Festivals galore: We know that Milwaukee has been nicknamed the "City of Festivals," and you'll find them featuring about anything you can imagine—music, culture, food and more. Why not live in the place where you'll never run out of things to do?
- Low unemployment: The state hit a record low with their unemployment rate of just 2.9% in 2018. Wages in the state are said to be on the rise as well, but at a "tepid pace." Locals here say that they see "Help Wanted" signs in just about every storefront window lately, too.
- Parks, parks, everywhere parks: With a total of 47 state parks, including High Cliff State Park, Harrington Beach State Park and Kohler-Andrae State Park, you and Mama Nature are gonna get some quality time together.
Cons (so say the locals):
- Manure: The nation's top producer of dairy (especially cheese) comes equipped with its share of cows. And cows only really do three things: eat, moo and make pies. In more rural areas, the occasional whiff of these cow-pies can definitely curl your nose. It’s also a good excuse to use if that smell was your fault, so that’s a bonus.
- Obesity: As of 2016, 41.2% of adults and 15% of children in The Badger State qualified as obese, just a hair above the national average of 39.8%. Considering the typical Wisconsin diet is jam-packed with cheese, beer and brats (sometimes rolled all in one), it’ll be important for you to find the right level of moderation—maybe even throw in a veggie or two, or three.
- Bugs: Wisconsinites are plagued by various types of pests, including boxelder bugs, gnats and beetles. But thanks to all that water and the humid summer weather, the biggest pest is mosquitoes by far. We recommend bug spray, like, all day.
For your amusement, we've looked into some of the state’s most outrageous, outdated, eyebrow-raising laws still in existence.
Here are a few:
- It's illegal not to give a farm animal the right of way on a public road. Of course, Wisconsin, of course.
- It's illegal to produce cheese that's not "highly pleasing." The state’s got some pretty high brand standards, that’s for sure.
- It's illegal to worry about a squirrel in La Crosse. We just can’t figure this one out, so we gave up.
- It's illegal to go out in public in Milwaukee if you look "offensive." What about defensive? Who knows.
Next Stop, Wisconsin!
And there you have it—our little mover’s guide to America’s Dairyland, packed with everything you need to hit the ground running. We covered the super-optimistic job scene, the affordable housing world, the friendly culture and a few sights worthy of your first to-do list. Just make sure you're covered with an affordable home insurance policy.
We obviously couldn’t tackle all of the questions you may have had, but we hope we got you trekking down the right path. So good luck—and remember, if you’re in a pickle, always just say, “Go Pack Go.”
NOTE: if you decide Wisconsin isn't right for you, we've covered the other states, too, to help you find the perfect spot. If cheese isn’t your jam, have you thought about Idaho?