VILAS COUNTY, Wis., April 14, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Wealthy second and seasonal home owners who live part time in Vilas County, Wisconsin may be surprised to learn that they are "ghosts." A recent online article ranked the county as the #2 Ghost Town in the United States. Two nearby northern Wisconsin counties were also listed, causing a flurry of commentary statewide, and prompting the local economic development director to warn about the dangers of trying to interpret the new Census data out of context.
The March 27 article refers to a recently released Census statistic that 62 percent of the housing units in Vilas County are "vacant." The article entitled "American Ghost Towns of the 21st Century" on the website "24/7 Wall St." concluded that Vilas County is the second ranked "Ghost Town" in the country. Using terms like "real estate disaster" and "plagued" by a "tourist economy" and attributing the county's bleak outlook to declines in "logging, forestry and construction," the article has drawn more than 3,000 comments, and has been posted and tweeted on numerous social media outlets. The story was then picked up by Yahoo! Finance on April 11 and placed alongside a photo of a vacant building that none of the locals could identify.
"The article must have been a freshman journalism class assignment," said Vilas County Economic Development Corporation (VCEDC) executive director Ken Stubbe. "With one census statistic, the author made deeply flawed conclusions, which were then supported by what appear to be random thoughts and assumptions about our local economy. Nothing could be further from the truth about Vilas County – this is what happens when data is taken out of context. But, the upside is that it gives us the opportunity to tell the real story behind the numbers." Stubbe explained that of the 62 percent "vacancy rate" reported in the 2010 Census, 60 percent of those homes are seasonal, owned and used frequently by part-time residents. However, part-time residents are not counted in the county census.
Seasonal homeowners contribute significantly to the economic vitality and diversity of the county, according to the University of Wisconsin-Extension. Local Extension educator Kelly Haverkampf said a 2007 study completed in Sawyer County, Wisconsin (which placed #8 on the article's "Ghost Town" list) revealed that seasonal homeowners spend significantly more on goods and services in the second home town than year-round residents, primarily because their incomes average three times that of locals. "The seasonal home economy is quite different than the tourism economy," Haverkampf explained. "A tourism economy is characterized by expenditures at lodging, restaurants, amusements, and other retail and services. A seasonal home economy includes durable goods such as vehicles and appliances, services such as caretaking and landscaping, and financial services. Many second homeowners seek financing from local banks and hire local construction companies, which boosts our economy."
In addition to pouring money into the local economy, seasonal homeowners contribute their talents locally. One of these "ghosts" is Steve Burrill, CEO of Burrill & Company, a diversified global financial services firm focused on the life sciences industry based in San Francisco. Burrill serves as chair of the VCEDC. "We view things a little differently here in Vilas County," Burrill said, referring to the article's characterization of the county. "We don't feel you need to live here full time to have an impact on the community," he said. "Many part-time residents have long-standing family ties to the community and are committed to its vitality."
Another "ghost" is Dick Leinenkugel, former Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce, who also serves on the VCEDC Board of Directors. "My family has a long-term commitment to Vilas County and northern Wisconsin, even though we don't live here full time," he said.
In fact, Burrill and Leinenkugel formed an angel investor group focused on Vilas County. Northern Angels, the 23rd such group in Wisconsin, is targeting equity financing for new and existing businesses with rapid growth potential that includes growth for Vilas County. The two founders have had no trouble in attracting interest from among the many wealthy Vilas County "ghosts" who own and manage very successful companies throughout the United States, including Fortune 500 companies. Technology based companies or company divisions are included on the investment target list.
"It's an obvious business target choice," said retired Bombardier transportation executive and VCEDC vice-chair Bill Lochte. "In the summer our population swells to over 150,000; but no one seems to truly leave the office anymore. The second home owners and visitors all seem to be working virtually via their cell phones and computers. I was at meeting recently where one of the attendees was interrupted with a call from a Saudi Arabian prince."
"I think we have more angels than ghosts in Vilas County," Stubbe quipped.
SOURCE Vilas County Economic Development Corp.