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Ann Arbor vs. Madison – how do we compare?

November 15, 2017 Regional Updates
University of Wisconsin and UofM comparison

Our football blog series is back! Like last year, we’re using the football season as an impetus to ask ourselves how we stack up against other, similar regions. How does Ann Arbor compare to other college towns in the US?

The penultimate game of the season! Though we might be bigger rivals with the-team-that-shall-not-be-named to the south, Ann Arbor and Madison are better matched than Ann Arbor and Columbus.

Some of our more recent comparisons have felt like comparing apples and oranges (e.g. is it all that enlightening to compare College Park to Ann Arbor?). Madison, Wisconsin, however, is a natural comparison. Perhaps more so than any of our previous comparisons – since we are only separated by Lake Michigan and share many traits. These similarities mean we often compete in sports, for students, and of course, for business.

Both UM and UW are incorporated into the city itself, not as urban campuses but as campuses that transition seamlessly into the downtown. The two schools also rival each other for research spending, both breaking the billion-dollar ceiling. Ann Arbor and Madison show up together on many “Best Cities for ____” lists – two good examples are Livability’s Top 50 Best Cities for Entrepreneurs 2017 (Ann Arbor #7, Madison #17) and Top 100 Best Places to Live 2016 (Ann Arbor #3, Madison #8).

These similarities mean that our slight differences become more significant:

  • Madison is bigger than Ann Arbor (by about 130,000 people) and is a state capital. This means the industry cluster breakdown is heavily weighted by state government. 
  • Some say the “feel” is different between the two cities, Madison being bigger, more urban, but not as walkable, with a higher number of distinct neighborhoods.
  • Madison is nestled between lakes, while Ann Arbor’s largest natural feature is the Huron River.
  • Recently, the “feel” of Ann Arbor has been skewing toward startups, and the same can be said for Madison but to a lesser degree. [Based on venture capital activity over the past two years – check out our recent benchmarking study to learn more.]

ICYMI – Here are links to this year’s series on our athletic (and economic) competition!