The word “Waukesha” means “by the little fox,” but most people know Waukesha for its close proximity to two of Wisconsin’s popular big cities: Milwaukee and Madison. Its desirable location is just one reason Waukesha was ranked one of the best places to live by Money magazine in 2012: the only Wisconsin city to be included. America’s Promise Alliance also selected Waukesha for its 100 Best Communities for Young People list in 2012.
“Waukesha is a mid-size, midwestern community that represents the quintessential small town,” said Mayor Jeff Scrima. “Our goal is to be the No. 1-ranked small city to live in by 2018. We can do it by focusing on our sense of community: on our neighborhoods, on our homes, on our families, on our values of empathy, responsibility and creativity.”
Waukesha was once a popular resort destination known for its spring waters, which were believed to have healing powers. Today, Waukesha is a thriving city with more than 70,000 residents, and is home to diversified industries such as GE Gas Engines, Gaco Western, Wendall Manufacturing and SPX Waukesha Electric.
Despite the national economic downturn, businesses are increasingly drawn to Waukesha. The city saw a growth of 500–600 jobs last year.
“One reason businesses are attracted here is our strong educational system,” said City Manager Ed Henschel. “We’re also home to Carroll University, the oldest university in Wisconsin. Businesses know they will find skilled workers here.”
The town is one of only eight cities in the world with the distinction of being a “GuitarTown.” Gibson Guitar Corporation chose Waukesha ― the birth and resting place of guitar legend Les Paul — for its acclaimed GuitarTown community arts project. The program raises money for charitable organizations, including Waukesha school music and art programs.
Waukesha GuitarTown features 10-foot tall fiberglass Gibson Les Paul model guitars and a series of regular size Gibson guitars, artistically designed by acclaimed Wisconsin visual artists and displayed in front of the city’s landmarks and businesses. Each guitar celebrates a musician, personality or artist unique to the region’s history, with guitar sculptures sponsored by local businesses and individuals.
Waukesha hosts a lively arts community, ranging from the Waukesha Symphony Orchestra, Carroll Players, Waukesha Civic Theatre, Waukesha Choral Union and summer concerts at the outdoor Les Paul Band Shell.
With the business and arts communities booming, it’s no surprise that the downtown is undergoing a Renaissance as well.
“Waukesha’s downtown Riverwalk revitalization is one of the best I’ve seen in the country,” said Bob Harrison, who grew up in Waukesha and now works in city government. “They integrated the river with the retail space by creating walkways. The river that runs through the city was previously viewed as a detriment at one time. Now it is treated as a community asset, and the health of river has improved, too.”
Waukesha is also a popular destination for neighboring big city dwellers, who take advantage of its hundreds of miles of biking and hiking trails, golf courses and more than 77 lakes within the county. The Kettle Moraine State Forest nearby offers a scenic nature experience as well, while the Charles Z. Horwitz Planetarium at Retzer Nature Center transports visitors beyond the city lights to the wonders of the night sky.
Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport is less than a 30-minute drive from Waukesha. In addition, Waukesha County’s Crites Field is centrally located and used by commercial, private and military aircraft.
The many accolades the city has received applaud Waukesha for managing to balance small town charm with smart business growth to maintain a vibrant and prosperous community. “If people are interested in a community that is family-oriented with a vibrant downtown and employment opportunities, Waukesha is the place for them.” said Strima.