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Regional Focus: Science and Culture in Wisconsin


Wisconsin is known for its green countryside dotted with slowly grazing cows, breweries spewing forth frothy beer, and rabid Green Bay Packers football fans — not to mention frigid winters. Recently, though, Wisconsin is also earning a name for its contributions to the life sciences.

Spurred by research at Wisconsin’s universities, which are fueled by more than $657 million in federal obligations, the state’s biotech industry is growing. In 2006, venture capital investments totaled $23.6 million, and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation holds equity in 40 spin-off companies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Not only does Wisconsin have highly ranked schools and startup companies popping up all over, but it also offers a bevy of activities outside the lab and the boardroom, from biking to brewery tours to bird watching.

So grab a cheese plate and, if you’re of age, a sudsy beer for this whirlwind tour of life and life sciences in the Badger state.



Found on the shore of Lake Michigan, Wisconsin’s largest city is home to brewing companies big and small — Miller, Onopa, Sprecher — but it is also where you can find schools such as Marquette University, the Milwaukee School of Engineering, and the Medical College of Wisconsin. The medical school houses a biotechnology and bioengineering center, a proteomics center, and a human and molecular genetics center. Any of these places could have a post for the Wisconsin-bound researcher.

Once you find a place to work, you need a place to live. According to HUD, the 2004 fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Milwaukee is $688. Living in Milwaukee, though, might be stressful. The violent crime rate there increased by 28 percent between 2005 and 2006, with 7,698 violent crimes reported for a population of 581,005, according to recent data from the FBI Uniform Crime Report. The increases were in robberies and assaults; homicides and rapes dropped by 15 and 29 percent, respectively.

To relieve that stress, you can always hit up the Miller Brewery or check out the Pabst Mansion. Nearby attractions also include the house of Harley Davidson, the County Zoo, and the local IMAX. But you definitely don’t want to miss the International Clown Hall of Fame.


The capital of Wisconsin was carved out of an isthmus between two lakes, Mendota and Monona. Today, it is where you will also find the flagship of the Wisconsin university system. The University of Wisconsin, Madison, enrolls more than 40,000 students who have access to a variety of courses in the life sciences, from enzymology to bioinstrumentation to veterinary genetics. The greater Madison area contains five lakes, and the city itself has 6,000 acres of park land.

In Madison, that two-bedroom apartment will set you back $716 a month, according to HUD. Madison has less crime than Milwaukee, though there was a 16 percent spike there between 2005 and 2006. In 2006, there were 973 violent crimes reported in Madison, which has a population of 222,364.

Out of the lab and home, there are many activities to enjoy in Madison. Its home county has more than 150 miles of biking and hiking trails. There is also the Henry Vilas Zoo, the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, and the Madison Art Center to visit during some free time.
Nearby Middleton, a small city of 17,400 people about seven miles west of Madison, recently topped Money magazine’s list of the best places to live, citing the town’s strong biotech industry, family focus, and numerous bike trails.


Wisconsin is home to highly ranked public and private institutions. The University of Wisconsin system has 26 locations and enrolls more than 160,000 students on its two-year, four-year, and extension campuses. The mainstay of that system is the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which US News & World Report ranked at number 38, tied with the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The smaller, private Jesuit school Marquette University placed at 82nd on the list of top American colleges. In 2003, there were 532 science and engineering doctorates awarded in Wisconsin; 31 percent of those were in the life sciences. The Medical College of Wisconsin, also in Milwaukee, not only turns out new MDs but also trains medical scientists.

Academia in Wisconsin spends a bit on research and development. Statewide in 2003, $998 million went toward R&D in an academic setting. In 2004, the National Science Foundation ranked the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as number four in academic R&D expenditures, spending $763 million, coming in behind Johns Hopkins, UCLA, and the University of Michigan. Despite its smaller size, Marquette spent nearly $10 million that same year on research and development.

Marshfield, Wis., is home to its eponymous clinic and research foundation. The private medical clinic and research institute employ more than 750 physicians in a variety of specialties and conduct research into public health, genetics, and biomedical informatics.


In 2003, the Wisconsin state department of commerce identified biotechnology as an emerging cluster. The Badger state’s biosciences industry grew by 16 percent each year from 2003 to 2005, and now the biosciences contribute $6.9 billion to the state economy. The state has 654 biotech and medical device companies offering 22,480 jobs, most of which are located near Milwaukee or Madison.

Sprouting up within arm’s reach of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, are dozens of biotech companies spurred mainly through the activities of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. The foundation manages nearly 900 patents generated through research at Madison and 1,400 stem cell license agreements, controlling five stem cell lines that are approved for federally funded research. WARF also holds equity in about 40 Madison spin-off companies, including NimbleGen, Third Wave Technologies, and Quintessence Biosciences. Since its inception in 1925, WARF has given $915 million back to the school to fund research, initiatives, and programs.

Many of the UW-Madison spinoffs are in University Research Park, located three miles west of the school. The research park is also the headquarters for the Wisconsin Technology Council. Created in 2001 by the state government, the council advises the governor and state legislature on scientific and technological issues. Its other efforts include the creation of the Wisconsin Angel Network that pairs entrepreneurs with investors.

The winters might get down to a chilly 27 degrees in Madison, but you can keep yourself warm doing research and working on your own startup company, within sight of at least one lake.

Wisconsin Basics
Population, 2007 estimate: 5,647,000
Capital: Madison
State Nickname: The Badger State
State Motto: “Forward!”
Percent of people over 25 with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 2000: 22.4%
Median household income, 2004: $46,142
Doctorates awarded in science and engineering, 2004: 514
Gross State Product: $211.6 billion

For more on Wisconsin, click here to see a PDF of this article with tables and charts on venture funding, average salaries, and more.

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