Illinois Tourism in Wisconsin

Looking northeast on Lake Wisconsin. Source: Lakeside Bar & Grill

I realize I am out of chronological order when I tell you that I traveled to Wisconsin over Memorial Day weekend after just writing a previous post upon return from Florida. Well, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want.

Rather than talk to you about the transportation and land use nexus of Lake Wisconsin, where my wife’s parents own a home, I am really interested in exploring some of the economics of tourism in Wisconsin, particularly in the role Illinois plays in it.

As a native Chicagoan, born and raised, I was brought up with a healthy hatred of the Packers and jokes about all the funny things Wisconsinites do. This is of course while my family and millions of other northern Illinois families were busy making our way up north to indulge in the many beautiful parts of the state – areas which my own state lacks within an easy drive of Chicago. In Chicago, Wisconsin (and Michigan too) is sometimes referred as “our backyard.” But is it really? Does Chicago really “own” Wisconsin? Would the State of Wisconsin cease to exist without all of the Illinois (“fibs“) tourists visiting throughout the year?

Let’s examine the facts.

  • Tourism sustains 181,000 jobs in 2010, about 7.8% of total employment or 1 of every 13 jobs. There were over 2.8 million jobs in Wisconsin in 2010.
  • Visitor spending in Wisconsin was $9.2 billion in 2010. State and local taxes collected due to tourism was $1.3 billion. Total state and local sales tax revenues were $3.9 billion in 2010.
  • 84.5 million leisure-person trips (one trip by one person) were taken in 2010 in Wisconsin. Of that total, 23% (17.6 million) of all trips were taken by Illinois residents. While highest among all other U.S. states, Wisconsin residents themselves account for 61.4% of the total leisure-person trips.

For simplicity, let’s assume that spending among all tourists was equal. Let’s also assume direct causation between the number of tourism jobs and leisure-person trips. In this model then, Illinois residents support 41,630 tourism jobs in Wisconsin (1.4% of total WI jobs) and contribute $300 million in state and local taxes (7.7% of total state and local taxes).

So, no, Illinoisans don’t own Wisconsin, we merely rent it one leisure-person trip at a time. I suspect, however, that Illinoisans’ negative externalities (in the form of traffic congestion) are responsible for the quest to widen I-90 south of Madison to Illinois.

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It has been a while since my last post and there has been a lot going on. I’ll be brief but I expect to be writing on the following topics in the next couple of weeks.


You may be wondering what kind of connection beer has to transportation and land use. I’ve been wondering the same thing and I’ll have some information up soon. As an avid home brewer, I am very much interested in the burgeoning craft beer scene in Chicago and I intend on examining why. As in, does urban form have any affect on the location decisions of craft brewery start-ups? Are there any agglomeration effects? Does public transit play a role? We’ll see.

Transport Chicago

I have been involved with the Metropolitan Conference on Public Transportation Research (aka Transport Chicago) for the past four years in various leadership and committee  posts on the steering committee. The conference is tomorrow, so please, sign up if interested. This year, I will be moderating a session on transportation safety in the context of pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicular users. Someone you may know, Steve Vance from Grid Chicago, will be presenting. Post conference, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on my session and the rest of the conference.


I’ve been traveling lately. Last week to Wisconsin. Next week to Florida. I’ve got some ideas on both…to be shared soon!


We’ll see about this one, but I think it’s worth mentioning the effects zoning has on land use and transportation decisions. I’ve been realizing that some of what I have been talking about on the blog may be obscure to some of my readers and some basic definitions are involved. Zoning is a critical planning tool in land use development and this might be a good jumping off point into discussions of broader land use and transportation policy. Look for additional posts on transit-oriented development, public transit and other land use and transportation related policy briefs.