Our signs say that Whitewater, the city proper, has a population of around fifteen thousand. We do.
What they don’t say, and what we know but don’t always mention, is that a significant portion of that population is attending the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
So much, when looking at data from the ACS Demographic and Housing Estimates (2013 Table), that the adult population in college is unquestionably the largest cohort by daily activity among all adults in the city. Not every young person in the city attends university, but so great is the group of young men & women that those attending college is the largest vocational group in the city.
(The city’s median age is 21.9 in the same table. In nearby Fort Atkinson, it’s 37.9.)
Those many students are vital to the city’s economic life. There’s not the slightest chance Whitewater would have the same economic prospects without them.
But if college students are the largest vocational group in the city, their presence means that news, marketing, etc., directed to non-student residents reaches a much smaller part of the city than some wish to admit.
In this city of thousands, many of whom are at school, how far does the influence of our local notables really reach?
I have a guess that readership of local papers is poor, considering the health of newspapers, generally. The only way to be certain would be for the local press to release independent, audited circulation figures that had numbers for Whitewater, specifically. Even then, one would like to know about the age of those readers.
Print publishers aren’t rushing to discuss those numbers. One doesn’t have to guess long to conclude correctly why they’re not rushing.
Looking at election results, attendance at public meetings, and the probable circulation of press accounts that herald officials’ accomplishments, the reach of Whitewater’s local notables isn’t very wide.
Some officials are popular, but others not so much as the pages of the Daily Union would suggest.
By contrast, there are lots of people in Whitewater interested in city life, including its politics, who are in no way insiders. They are among the most vibrant residents in the community. Their numbers dwarf the number of town fathers.
In a city disproportionately young, and with a higher Hispanic population than our census figures state, most meetings skew older and whiter than the city’s averages.
(There’s nothing wrong with being white; I’ve been white my whole life. There’s nothing wrong with being older; I’ve been older than the city’s median age for quite a while. Then again, this blog is the work of just one person, not a city committee or representative sample.)
Almost no ordinary residents attend local WEDC meetings, CDA meetings, etc. The only way the Community Development Authority could get an ordinary crowd to the Innovation Center would be to change the city’s street signs so that people passing through town would accidentally land at the Tech Park.
Reaching all Whitewater is a bigger job than reaching what a few wish to describe as Whitewater.
As Whitewater is changing, those unwilling to see that what worked won’t keep working will find themselves surprised and frustrated.