Mike Heine/The Week
(Published March 22, 2007, 3:49 p.m.)
The latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that Walworth County is the third-fastest growing county in the state.
Since 2000, Walworth County grew almost 10 percent, from about 92,000 residents to just over 101,000.
It trailed only St. Croix County's 26.7 percent growth and Juneau County's 10.4 percent increase.
The state grew by 3.6 percent and 14 of the state's 72 counties decreased in population, according to the estimates.
"It's happening everywhere," Lakeland Builders Association President Chris Stebnitz said of the growth in Walworth County.
Walworth County's strategic location, almost geographically centered between the metropolitan areas of Milwaukee, Madison, Rockford, Kenosha and Chicago, is the driving factor in the growth, Stebnitz said.
"It matters more where people are living than where they are working," Stebnitz said. "People would rather be living in a place they enjoy rather than living in a place where they're working."
East Troy is seeing many residents moving south from the Milwaukee area. Whitewater has its share of new residents who commute to Madison and Janesville for work. The southern half of the county is seeing large population increases from Illinois residents moving north, said Mike VanderBunt, association executive for the Lakes Area Realtors Association.
"It's just close enough for people to get to where they need to go in a short time," VanderBunt said of the county's location. "I think that's the biggest reason (for the growth). A lot of people who are working in these cities are maybe wanting a different lifestyle."
VanderBunt said a new reciprocity agreement between Wisconsin and Illinois allows Realtors from both states to easily get licensed across state lines.
The association had more than 130 Illinois-based Realtors last year, VanderBunt said.
"They're not showing Wisconsin residents properties. They're showing Illinois residents properties in Wisconsin and a lot of those people are moving here permanently," he said.
With good reason, said Fred Burkhardt, executive vice president of the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance.
"It's a good place to live," he said. "It has a huge number of amenities, is very close to major metropolitan centers and yet, you have the ambiance of a small rural town, which is a very nice thing to have."
Besides location and smalltown charm, Burkhardt said people are attracted to Walworth County because of quality school systems and moderate home prices compared to markets in the metro areas.
"I know the housing costs in Walworth County are far more competitive than in the Milwaukee and Chicago-land area," Burkhardt said.
While neither Stebnitz, VanderBunt nor Burkhardt had specifics of the fastest-growing areas of the county, one thing is certain. The area will continue to see population increases, particularly close to interstate and highway corridors.
"The indicators we have been watching make it very clear that as Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison continue to expand, the pressure for growth will come to Walworth County, as it quite obviously has," Burkhardt said.