Wake up Wisconsin: We’re losing our identityFor years, we have been known as the Dairy State or the Badger State. It’s time to be honest. California kicks our proverbial “dairy-air” in milk production, and the term “badger” comes from the fact we once had a lot of miners who burrowed, badger-like, into the ground.
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
For years, we have been known as the Dairy State or the Badger State.
It’s time to be honest. California kicks our proverbial “dairy-air” in milk production, and the term “badger” comes from the fact we once had a lot of miners who burrowed, badger-like, into the ground.
If two politicians in Madison saw an actual badger today, a fight would break out over whether it was a possum or a muskrat. In the end, they’d call animal control and have the poor thing shipped to Minnesota or Michigan, both of which would place welcoming committees at their borders.
We’re not the Badger State, not even close. We haven’t had an iron mine here in half a century, and given what has transpired in our Capitol of late, apparently we won’t have one any time soon.
We’re more like the Blanding’s Turtle State or the Butler’s Garter Snake State. We don’t like stuff that moves too fast. I know that’s not exactly fair. There are plenty of things we have more of than turtles and snakes. We have mosquitoes, too. And dragonflies. We do have awesome dragonflies.
Troy Henderson, a historian at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum in the Upper Peninsula, didn’t have a good idea for a new state name for us, but it turns out Michigan has its own problems with its nickname, “The Wolverine State.” It’s not clear there have ever really been many wolverines there.
Henderson did say the U.P. has two existing iron mines and they have been the “lifeblood of the Marquette Iron Range for a long time now.”
“They continue to have a huge impact on the Upper Peninsula and particularly the Marquette Range,” he said.
Maybe Michigan should be the Badger State. Or Minnesota. I grew up there and I always thought “Gopher State” was kind of a lame nickname anyway. Minnesotans are a lot more like badgers than we are.
Jim Skurla, an economist who runs a research bureau at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, said the mining industry has been “going full bore up here the last couple years.” In fact, he said, it was the best performing industry in the Arrowhead Region — a portion of northeast Minnesota that is sometimes said to also include Douglas County, Wis. In 2007 alone, iron mining added more than $1.3 billion in value to the Arrowhead and Douglas County region, according to a report Skurla wrote.
Douglas, in other words, is lucky to be next to Minnesota. Similarly, due to reasons other than mining, one of the fasting growing regions of Wisconsin is the area just outside the Twin Cities. St. Croix County grew 34 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to U.S. Census figures. Folks have money there, too.
You’ve heard of bedroom communities? Maybe we should be the Bedroom State. Kenosha County, on the edge of Illinois is also growing incredibly fast. Wisconsin, a great place to sleep!
Bill Schiek, an economist with the Dairy Institute of California, was kind when I asked him who the real Dairy State is. California produced 41.5 billion pounds of milk last year in comparison to 26 billion pounds in Wisconsin.
“We’re closing in on doubling (Wisconsin’s milk production) if we continue to grow,” he said.
But, he added, dairy isn’t as big a part of the culture out there because there are so many other large industries. I think that was a polite way of telling me we could still be the Dairy State if we wanted to because we don’t have much else going for us.
Plus, said Schiek, Wisconsin still produces more cheese.
“You guys are still the cheeseheads,” he said, which did make me feel a little better.
Although, I’m still sort of partial to the Bedroom State because I think it sends the right message: Maybe it’s time we wake up.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.