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Energy in Communities: Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Energy Revolution Helps Set Up Eau Claire For Bright Future

When James Hanke completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire in 2001, staying around after graduation wasn’t the plan. A native of Chippewa Falls, about 20 miles to the northeast, Hanke expected his future would unfold elsewhere.


Today, Hanke’s glad he stayed – a member of Wisconsin’s “sticky population,” natives who stay put instead of migrating elsewhere – and to be part of an economic comeback in the northwestern part of the state, closely tied to another comeback: U.S. natural gas and oil.

“We weathered the recession thanks to the energy projects that created jobs and opportunities.”
– Terry Hayden, President, Wisconsin Pipe Trades Association

“America’s natural gas and oil renaissance catapulted the region’s industrial sand mine industry, and in turn, created a path for economic stability and ultimately, growth for Market & Johnson, our employees and workers across a number of sectors,” Hanke says.

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Abundant domestic natural gas and oil are economically empowering well beyond the industry itself – as fuel for transportation or power generation, as a component in materials that make Americans’ lives more comfortable, as building blocks for manufacturing processes and more. Natural gas and oil are the leading energy sources that drive the United States’ 21st-century economy.

Western Wisconsin is home to some of the best industrial sand quarries in the country. Market & Johnson helped build processing facilities in states across the U.S. where hydraulic fracturing has been used to develop natural gas and oil. Eau Claire sand is used in the majority of the shale plays in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas.

Frac sand mining and other industries associated with natural gas and oil have helped transform Eau Claire, a relatively quiet, small Wisconsin town of just under 68,000. Today, the “Indie Capital of the Midwest” is varied and vibrant, attracting indie music lovers, foodies and fans of locally brewed beers.

Eau Claire’s unemployment rate is under 3%, and the median family income tops $76,500 (compared to about $76,400 nationally). The cost of living index is 93.9 – compared to the national average and the Twin Cities’ index of 105 in 2018.

Benn Haas, owner of The Plus, a popular bar downtown, has seen Eau Claire’s thriving economy benefit small business owners like himself. During the 1980s, large shopping malls drew people out of the city center, putting a damper on small businesses. But the city, reinvigorated as it helped support production of U.S. energy, worked to bring people back downtown.

In Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, home to Eau Claire, the natural gas, oil and petrochemicals industry:

19,960 jobs

Supports 19,960 jobs – almost 5% of the district’s overall employment

$1.5 billion

Directly and indirectly adds more than $1.5 billion each year to the district economy

Haas was part of the area’s revitalization. In addition to The Plus, he also owns an arts supply store, a framing store, a tea shop and a cupcake shop, and he lives in and leases the apartments above The Plus. His next venture? “A restaurant,” he says, “but only if it comes with a parking lot.”

Terry Hayden, president of the Wisconsin Pipe Trades Association, credits Eau Claire’s transformation to a mix of private and public investments, including natural gas and oil.

“It’s heartwarming to see that Eau Claire has gone from being simply a good place to live to a city people are drawn to with so much to do,” says Hayden.

Nearby Chippewa Valley Technical College has 18,000 students enrolled in associate degree, technical diploma or vocational continuing education programs to support the area’s demand for manufacturing, distribution and other skilled laborers.

“We weathered the recession thanks to the energy projects that created jobs and the opportunity for young people to come into our industry,” says Hayden. “These are lifelong careers that provide a good life in Wisconsin, and it’s important to us to provide training resources to prepare them for a bright future.”

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