Oscar Mayer Closing Highlights Madison’s Complex Relationship With Manufacturing

Nov 18, 2015

Historically, Wisconsinites have perceived their capital city as primarily a university and government town, and perhaps more recently, as an aspiring tech-industry center. They're not wrong — government is by far the biggest employer in the Madison area.

Head a couple miles away from the Capitol though and you’ll find several pockets of industrial businesses surrounded by working-class neighborhoods on the city's east, north and south sides. The soon-to-close Oscar Mayer plant, located along its namesake Packers Avenue on the north side, is the most iconic, but its roughly 700 food-production workers aren't exactly a blue-collar anomaly in the Madison area.

Food processors like Oscar Mayer are part of the manufacturing sector as defined by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In September 2015, the manufacturing sector provided 34,400 jobs, about 8.8 percent of the Madison area's non-farm workforce, according to BLS data. The "Madison area," as defined by the BLS, comprises Dane, Iowa, Green, and Columbia counties. (It makes sense to consider the whole area as opposed to Dane County in isolation: A 2013 state Department of Workforce Development report on commuting patterns found more than 19,000 people travel to work in Dane County from Iowa, Green, and Columbia counties.)

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