Wisconsin is Quickly Becoming One of the Best States for Veteran Entrepreneurs

By Seda Goff, Guest Contributor

More veteran business owners are finding a supportive and lucrative base in Wisconsin. According to the PenFed Foundation’s annual study of the top U.S. cities for veteran entrepreneurs, it’s the fastest-growing state for veteran entrepreneurship in the country.

Every year, in conjunction with Edelman Intelligence, we analyze data from the VA, the Census Bureau, dozens of government databases, and private foundations for 390 metropolitan areas across the U.S. In our most recent study, Milwaukee was ranked as the top “Emerging City,” raising its score more than any other city we evaluated. Madison took the third Emerging City spot. 


As the director of veteran entrepreneurship for the PenFed Foundation, I’m often asked how we are able to quantify the best cities for veteran businesses. It’s a meticulous process in which we focus on four weighted categories: livability, economic growth, support for veterans, and the ability to start a business. 2020’s study, uniquely, also took into account factors specifically related to COVID-19, like the number of Paycheck Protection Program loans distributed and the number of small-and-medium-sized business grant programs.

For each category, we evaluate various factors in order to give each city a score for each category. For example, for livability, we consider factors like school systems, public transit and park scores. A city’s economic growth is calculated based on Gross Domestic Product per capita, unemployment rate, COVID-19 resilience (for 2020’s study), and more. We also consider factors like the number of VA medical centers and support groups, the veteran unemployment rate, new business survival rates, and the amount of venture capital investment in new businesses. 

In our 2020 study, Madison and Milwaukee ranked the highest of all 390 metropolitan areas for livability. Wisconsin is frequently recognized for its schools: In one study, its K-12 public education ranked 11th in the country. U.S. News & World Report ranked UW–Madison the highest-rated public school of education in the nation in 2020. 

Additionally, Wisconsin’s 52 state parks bring in more than $1 billion dollars per year, and it ranks fourth in the nation for overall health care quality. It has a high business survival rate and has higher VA expenditures per veteran than many other cities.

In 2015, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, Wisconsin had over 400,000 veterans and 40,000 veteran-owned businesses, and the state offers a significant number of appealing veterans benefits – like the Wisconsin G.I. Bill, which forgives full tuition for eligible veterans and their dependents. Veterans and surviving spouses receive a refundable property tax credit for their home, and there are more than 350 approved facilities in the state where veterans can get career training or guidance. 

As we emerge from the economic crisis of 2020, businesses – particularly veteran-owned businesses – will play a pivotal role in the recovery of our country. Nearly 10% of all U.S. businesses are majority-owned by veterans. These businesses employ over 5 million people and bring over $1 trillion in revenue into the American economy. In addition, veterans are 30% more likely to employ other veterans and their spouses than non-veteran businesses – an important factor to consider as service members enter the civilian workforce each year.  

With its strong economy, high livability, and reputation for veteran support, Wisconsin will be an increasingly appealing state for veteran entrepreneurs in the coming years. 

Seda Goff is the director of veteran entrepreneurship for the PenFed Foundation.