|Municipality||Village of Somerset|
|Population and Growth|
|Population (2014 if available, otherwise 2010, indicate)||2,635 (2010)|
|WI Workforce Development Region||8|
|Young Adult Gaining Measure||123% (WI median is -22%)|
|Young Adult Maintaining Measure||29% (WI Median is 24%)|
|Racial stats, 2010 Census||
93.1% White (Non-Hispanic)
2.2% White (Hispanic)
1% African American
0.6% American Indian or Alaska Native
2.5% Two or More Races
|Mean Income||$64,123 (2015)|
|Median Income||$63,224 (2015)|
|Year of Latest Comprehensive Development Plan||2012|
|Year and Amount of Last Referendum Passed||(2014) $7.95 million|
|Notes||Somerset is served by the School District of Somerset|
|Elementary||Somerset Elementary School||Pre-K – 4||Public|
|St. Anne's School||Pre-K – 8||Private|
|Middle||Somerset Middle School||5-8||Public|
|High||Somerset High School||9-12||Public|
Conducting the Case Study in Somerset
Somerset was the second municipality where a researcher spent a full week visiting and collecting interviews. Amanda Hoffman began building our core group in the beginning of 2017, and conducted interviews from May 5th to May 11th.
- Connect to University of Wisconsin-Extension:
In early 2017, Amanda reached out to UW-Extension educator Eric Biltonen in St. Croix County, requesting recommendations for community leaders who would be interested in our project.
- Connect to Somerset Leaders to Build a "Core Group":
Eric Biltonen, who also aided our New Richmond case study, connected Amanda to local government and business leaders to form the core group.
- Develop Interview Guide:
Amanda contacted each of the three core group members separately, and sent them our approved bank of questions. She requested their input on building the interview guide for the Somerset interviews. Before interviews started, each core group member sent back their question preferences. Amanda constructed an interview guide that addressed their points of interest, and sent it around. Each approved the final interview guide.
- Contact Potential Interviewees:
Amanda requested suggestions of people to invite to interviews. She communicated that we were interested in interviewing people in the 20-39 year old age range (or were very familiar with people in that age range), who either lived in Somerset or spent a significant amount of time there. Core group members sent Amanda contact information for potentially interested individuals. She reached out to organizations like churches, banks, and schools, to recruit more interviewees.
- Conduct Interviews:
Amanda interviewed 17 people whom she reached through core group references, and her own search for community members. She conducted these interviews over seven days.
- Present and Revise Report:
Amanda analyzed and summarized the results of the interview, presented them to the core group, and revised the report based on their recommendations.
Somerset Interview Guide
- How old are you?
- How long have you lived here?
- Why did you move here? Did you stay for the reasons you thought you would?
- Community Attributes
- What are the schools and libraries like here?
- Where do you go to shop? What do you think of shopping opportunities and food options around here? Farmers' Markets?
Follow Up: What do people find to be affordable here, in general, or not?
- What kinds of things do you leave the community for?
- How are outdoor activities important here?
Follow Up: What about gardens?
Growth and Movement
- What strategies or factors that attract young adults to where you live are you aware of?
- How do you feel about population growth in your community?
Follow Up: What trends have you seen in the number of young adults where you live?
- How does population growth of young adults affect you, and how does it affect your community?
- What would you say to a young adult (20-39) thinking of moving here?
- Why do people move here? Why do people stay here?
- Who would not feel comfortable here?
What Young Adults Do
- What do young people do for entertainment/recreation/local cultural life around here?
Follow up: What about organized recreational activities?
- Where do young adults who live here work? Where do young adults live around here?
- What role do you think young adults should play where you live?
Follow Up: To what extent do young adults engage in governance and politics where you live?
Your Community Satisfaction
- How do you feel about your quality of life where you live?
Follow Up: Economically speaking?
Follow Up: Socially speaking?
Follow Up: Culturally speaking?
Follow Up: Politically speaking?
- How would you want your town to grow? How would you want it to stay the same?
Follow Up: What would influence you to stay or leave?
- What community groups are helpful to people around here? What are local projects or impacts that people have had?
Follow Up: What stories does your town have to share?
- What does community mean to you? Where in your community are some places you have influence or would like to have influence?
Results for Somerset
While the identities of the 17 interview participants remain confidential, a few key characteristics may prove useful to readers in their analysis of these findings.
- Participants ranged in age from 22-59. One person was 20-29, ten were 30-39, three were 40-49, and three were 50-59.
- Four participants had lived in the community for fewer than five years; three had lived there for five to nine years, four for 10-19 years, two from 20-29 years, and two people grew up in Somerset.
Overall, our 17 interviewees repeatedly cited multiple factors that were attracting young adults and keeping them in the community.
Fifteen out of seventeen participants stated that the school system encouraged young adults to live in Somerset. When asked about Somerset's strengths, or why they moved there, many noted that they were pleased with aspects of the schools, including what they perceived to be small class sizes and the convenience of the campus with all of the buildings close together. Interview participants said things like:
- "The schools have lots going for them."
- "That [one campus for all the schools] helps us do a lot of flexible sharing of staff and students..."
- "The schools are small enough where you can get that personalized attention..."
- "I'm very happy with the schools."
Ultimately, people's perception of the schools is good, but six participants also stated that it can improve. There seemed to be a concern that the schools could do more, and even that the school system needs to "reidentify" itself. Some participants also noted this feeling in general for the community.
- "The school's kinda got to re-identify itself, with the next generation of people coming through. And we're headed in that direction."
- "...[Test] scores have gone downhill. There's room to improve."
Sports and the Outdoors
Sports and the outdoors are an important part of the Somerset culture that young adults value. Eight participants noted the importance of school sporting events, sports leagues, and outdoor recreation as popular forms of entertainment in Somerset.
Three participants praised school sports in Somerset:
- "It's a big sports town. Professional athletes come out of Somerset. They have awesome football."
- "Everyone comes to [see] the football team"
- "Friday night football games."
The core group also confirmed that athletes have gone on to play professional, including hockey and racecar driving.
Somerset also has a wealth of amateur sports leagues that are very popular among young adults:
- "Volleyball leagues, softball leagues, bowling leagues."
- "My age group – softball leagues, dart leagues, pool leagues, golf leagues..."
Somerset residents spend a lot of time outdoors. Somerset participants mentioned a wide variety of activities covering all seasons:
- "Outdoor concert series."
- "The river – plenty to do here for that."
- "People fish, hunt, four wheel, snowmobile – people like their toys up here."
- "We'll spend a day at the park, see the trails."
- "People run the development - it's a mile around. It gets busy in the neighborhood [when the weather is good."
The Apple River was frequently cited both as a popular area for recreation and as a nuisance because of the tourists and partying it attracts.
- "The Apple River brings in the riffraff."
- "You hear about bad things on the river and in the campgrounds, regarding tourists."
In reviewing our analysis, however, the core group affirmed that there are portions of the Apple River where tourists are scarce, especially during the week and in some places even during the weekend. And they noted that people also use it for canoeing and kayaking.
And one interviewee theorized that some residents move to Somerset after having first experienced it as tourists.
Proximity to Twin Cities, Hudson, Stillwater: Work There, Move Here
Fourteen participants praised Somerset's proximity to high-population urban areas, especially the Twin Cities, where people commute for work or amenities. Participants indicated that many Somerset residents commute, especially to the Twin Cities in Minnesota, and many work at Andersen Windows.
- "The norm is to commute."
- "[The] Majority [work] in the Twin Cities. It's easier to cross the river."
But participants noted that a number of young adults also work in Somerset. Locally, the Somerset school district and industrial park were most frequently listed as employers of young adults.
- "The core of the Somerset employee base is the school."
- "some work around here - there's a few factories that are better paying"
Participants view the proximity to cities around Somerset both positively and negatively. Ten participants noted the lack of options for fun and food in Somerset, sometimes attributed this lack to the multitude of shopping and food options in the broader area. And, indeed, while there is a general lack of shopping opportunities right in Somerset, there are a number of options nearby. For at least some residents the in-town options are, also "inaccessible, not feasible, too expensive," and this is ameliorated by the relative proximity of more urban areas.
- "I don't do shopping in Somerset."
- "Not many - very few [shopping and food] opportunities...But you have to keep in mind, we're four miles from New Richmond, and eight miles from Stillwater, 25 miles from St. Paul; which makes you a bedroom community. You'll never see a lot of those things because they're all around us."
- "Sometimes they shop at the local grocery store, but for their main shopping they go to CostCo in Northern St. Paul, 40 minutes away, or the Hudson CostCo."
- "Honestly, [shopping in Somerset is] horrible. But then you have New Richmond, Stillwater, and Hudson."
But four participants still affirmed that local relationships are important for people meeting their needs.
- "Community is huge - that's what makes Somerset special. When we have needs, parents come out full force. That goes back years and years deep, or for new people like us."
- "I have this saying that I teach my kids. Fairness does not equal equality. First, everyone gets what they need. The bulk of the population get what they need."
The core group mentioned the local presence of gas stations, banks, groceries, restaurants, healthcare clinics, and Emergency Services. And they also affirmed how people met their needs informally through local relationships.
Lower Cost Housing and Living: More Land, Fewer Homes
Thirteen participants named Somerset's low cost of living, and the availability of lower-cost housing and land, as attractive features for young adults. Being located some distance from urban areas allows folks to be more spread out and own more land at a more affordable price than they would find in or nearer the cities.
- "We didn't move here for [restaurant] food. We moved for a spread-out yard. We used to live in a town home... We don't want to live that close [to our neighbors]."
- "For under $230K we got an acre and a half and a 2,800 sq. ft. home."
- "Price is one; scenic living is another. You can get a three acre lot of land for the same price as a city lot."
- "Starter homes [as a factor that attracts young adults] in the $150K-200K. People looking to get acres."
Our interview respondents saw the economic benefits of living in Somerset as going beyond the cost of land and housing to include the overall cost of living.
- "Low cost of living, relatively low."
- "...It's the cost of living.."
- "It's a cheaper cost of living, even with the commute."
- "We want to live off the land."
Participants also distinguished between property in the village and in the township. In general, lots in the township are larger, at least three acres in size, and village homes tend to be older.
- "Somerset is a town and a village. The difference between them is that the township has bigger lots, more open. The village has older houses."
- "There are three acre plots in the township that run from $250K to $500K."
Though housing is relatively cheap for the area, Somerset residents have watched housing values go up and supply go down. The real estate market has shifted based on anticipation of the new Stillwater bridge. Three participants stated that folks have trouble buying a house that meets their needs and budget. Instead, they buy land and build.
- "People were holding onto land, and asking prices that were silly."
- "People are buying here - real estate is not available, you have to build."
In reviewing our analysis, the core group shared that, in 2010, 40 percent of Somerset village residents were renting. Ordinances were changed to encourage home-ownership. Ordinances also now incentivize development of houses in the village, rather than just the township.
Small Town Feeling
Fifteen participants affirmed that they experience a caring and close-knit community in Somerset. Three participants noted the importance of community-wide events in helping to create this sense of community. When asked what they would say to a young adult thinking of moving to the area, participants responded with statements like the following:
- "It's a wonderful community. It's a close, tight knit community. If you're about the right stuff, they'll embrace you wholeheartedly."
- "...it's a good place to live..."
- "My wife and I would tell you it was a good place to raise kids...a rural setting."
- "We're a nice, caring community – an absolutely great place to raise kids. Close to the cities."
In asking our interview participants how they would like Somerset to grow, most of them mentioned business growth rather than population growth. Eleven people mentioned the importance of business growth, and three of those desired a big box general retail store.
- "It'd be nice to see it grow with more businesses, opportunities for things. Normal city stuff."
- "[it would be] Cool to see more of a Hudson vibe."
- "I'd love a vibrant downtown...with people walking...not empty storefronts."
A desire for a vibrant downtown was noted by five interview participants who expressed concern about abandoned storefronts and an old worn-out appearance.
How Somerset Compared to Other Municipalities
Our team completed a case study of nearby New Richmond. The study revealed common themes between Somerset and New Richmond. Our findings in Somerset were also reminiscent of other municipalities like De Pere, Brooklyn, and Evansville.
Proximity to Urban Centers
In both Somerset and New Richmond, proximity to Hudson, Stillwater, and the Twin Cities was mentioned by nearly all participants. In both municipalities, participants noted a split between those who work in the area, and those who commute. Overall, people estimated that roughly half work out of town and half work in the area in both places. Somerset and New Richmond differed slightly in that many Somerset participants noted also leaving the community for many, if not nearly all of their shopping, food, and entertainment needs. In New Richmond, many stated that they shopped locally for groceries, but frequently left town for clothes shopping and to have more diversity in food options. In both cases, proximity to nearby towns and urban centers was important.
Proximity to urban centers was also a prominent factor in Brooklyn and Evansville near Madison. In Somerset, a handful of participants mentioned that the proximity to other towns gave them the sense that Somerset is a "bedroom community," meaning that people may live in town, but are out of town for work and shopping during the day. This sentiment was similarly expressed in both Brooklyn and Evansville, towns within thirty minutes of Madison and Janesville. In Brooklyn, residents left the community for nearly everything but the school, bank, and gas station. Evansville has some shops, other employment, and a couple of dining options. However, interview participants frequently stated that they accessed amenities outside of Evansville.
Participants in De Pere noted that they valued their proximity for employment opportunities and larger entertainment such as major league sporting events and touring concerts in Green Bay. De Pere is also located near a highway that has access to Green Bay to the north and several cities for employment or family connections to the south.
The importance of schools is almost universal in our case study communities. In the communities of Black Creek, Plover, Brooklyn, Evansville, and Hayward, our interview participants emphasized the importance of small schools. People felt like they could get to know their children's teachers. Most importantly, however, small schools provided a way to build community. In Somerset, people emphasized school sports as bringing the community together. In Brooklyn, which did not have its own high school, the school provided a gathering space for arts and other community activities.
The importance of lower cost housing on large lots in Somerset was also echoed in many of our other communities. Many of our interviewees moved to these communities with a vision of rural life that included more space both inside and outside. And many of these communities are also experiencing an increase in housing costs and a shortage of homeowner housing in the sweet spot price range that has attracted young adults.
Somerset is also unusual among our case study communities in having a larger supply of rental housing. A shortage of rental housing has been a concern for some interviewees in places like Hayward and New Richmond.
So What? Implications for Somerset
Some of the results from our study may not be surprising to you. Many of the themes brought up by participants are indicative of a healthy, thriving community. While you may not be surprised to hear that a strong school system and proximity to another urban area for shopping and/or jobs are important to community members, it is important to remember that there are many communities that are struggling to gain and retain their young adults due to a lack of these community amenities and attributes. We hope that the results of this case study affirm the good work being done in your own community while aiding others who will greatly value the observations and results gathered in your community.
Our research findings also hold some implications for Somerset.
Some would say that Somerset is growing because it is in the right location: close enough to cities that provide world class amenities – Hudson, Stillwater, and the Twin Cities – but far enough to maintain a small-town, rural character. The new Stillwater bridge will provide an even shorter commute between Somerset and Minnesota. The promise of this bridge has boosted Somerset's attractiveness, as well as housing prices. Of course, this growth also bring risks. What people mention most about the attraction of Somerset is its "small town feel." At the same time, they have mixed feelings about the influx of new residents from the Twin Cities. The Meadows housing development came up a few times in our interviews with mixed feelings as people praised its lower cost but disliked its appearance. How to manage housing costs to not price young adults out of the market, while still meeting the desire for spacious homes and lots will be one of the challenges facing Somerset.
Somerset's wide open spaces, rivers, and rolling hills appeal to all its residents, as well as tourists. It has been the site of massive concerts, and tubing businesses have an outsized reputation. That tourism contributes to the economy, and helps support some of the restaurants and bars that residents enjoy. At the same time, it creates challenges of dealing with large numbers of people in a small community. Many of the same outdoor amenities that draw tourists also appeal to residents. But we did not hear about as much business development for residents' outdoor recreation, which may involve more "silent sports" such as hiking, biking, and kayaking. Are there civic and business opportunities to support diverse local outdoor cultures?
Somerset has its own school district, with smaller class sizes than surrounding districts. Residents are dedicated to the schools, which all share a campus. How will Somerset maintain this asset as the population grows, while still maintaining a small school culture?
Somerset is home to "big families" that founded the village. In the last few decades, Somerset has welcomed families from across Wisconsin, as well as from Minnesota. Throughout the interviews, leaders and participants communicated a difference between the old Somerset, the current Somerset, and the future Somerset. Old Somerset was smaller and more rural, with strong schools. Current Somerset is busier, more socially diverse, and a home to commuters instead of farm families. The schools are moving past troubles in their administration. Currently, households embrace the reality of driving out of town for fun, work, and shopping. But residents want to see more in town, and The Chamber of Commerce is connecting residents with information about local businesses. Currently, a strategic community plan is being developed by the Chamber, the Village, the Town, and the school district. The downtown, from our interviews, seems primed to be a focus of that plan.
The future Somerset is coming on fast. Many participants, when questioned about growth in Somerset, responded that no matter what they felt, growth will happen. The collective dream for the future of Somerset values connections between households, their schools, and their local amenities. In this vision, Somerset leverages nearby cities, instead of depending on them. Older residents and big-name families share leadership with residents that care enough to make their voice heard. Somerset loves being fun, beautiful, and caring. They are ready to invest the time and patience to stay that way.