What would make a couple who could live anywhere in the world choose Wausau as the place to plant their roots, build their careers, and grow their family?
“Wausau is the real deal,” says Dusten Tornow. “It has everything we need.”
Certainly, the accolades are there. Wausau was ranked by ZipRecruiter as a ‘Top 10 Job Market for 2018'. Time calls it the ‘Middle-Class Paradise,’ and Forbes has it on their ‘10 Cities That Give You The Best Bang for your Buck’ list.
But given its small size when compared to its closest metro neighbors in Minneapolis and Milwaukee, how can it compete with the amenities, job opportunities, and recreation that those large cities offer?
“We’ve lived and worked in the Denver and Austin areas, both highly desirable and progressive cities that offer great amenities and opportunities,” shared Tornow. “However, with that big city charm comes a lot of negatives. Long, grueling commutes. Extremely expensive and competitive child care options. A higher-cost of living. You just don’t have these negatives in Wausau. And yet the community has everything we want, yet none of the headaches of urban living.”
Growing up in Wausau, Dusten graduated from Wausau West High School in 1999 and continued on to college – where he met Kirsten (Rhyner), a 1999 graduate from DC Everest High School. Upon earning their degrees, the two moved together to Madison, Wisconsin to explore new jobs and experience a different place.
Over the course of the next 12 years, the couple married, had two children and relocated many times. Their jobs allowed them to work remotely, so traveling and exploring new cities, while continuing to work and build their careers, was an option that they took advantage of early on in their relationship.
The couple called the Denver area home for seven years, and then lived outside of Austin, Texas a year. “We lived in Denver and Austin when both city’s populations were exploding,” commented Tornow. “These cities are considered fairly trendy, so I feel like we have a good perspective of amenities and opportunities that residents want.”
And while Dusten shared he appreciated some of the amenities that came with living in a large, urban city, the negatives quickly began to outweigh the positives. “A few mile drive could take 30 minutes. The cost of living was high. It got old fast.” Kirsten added, “Since the cities were growing so fast, the waitlists for childcare were often over a year long!”
Some may say Wausau is a little bit isolated. Located in the middle of Wisconsin, the closest large city is three hours away. However, for Dusten and Kirsten, they see this as a huge asset.
“Being isolated kind of sounds like a bad thing. But we think it’s a good thing. Wausau is forced to be self-sufficient. It feels like a big city. It has an art scene, good restaurants, local small businesses and large manufacturing companies to support the economy. It’s thriving in its own little pocket. It doesn’t need to rely on another big city to carry it,” reflected Tornow. “Yet at the same time, if you need a big city fix, you can hop in your car and be in Minneapolis or Milwaukee in just a few hours.”
What else attracts professionals and families like the Tornows to Wausau?
“The ski hill here in Wausau was a big attraction for us,” said Dusten. “When living in Colorado, we spent a lot of time in the mountains so the fact there is a ski hill here is huge. Plus other recreational opportunities are endless, from biking to snowshoeing, to cross country skiing.”
Lora Bladow, REALTOR® with RE/MAX Excel in Wausau, has her own personal Wausau story. Five years ago she was living in Madison, Wisconsin when she was recruited to a job in Wausau. She was happy in Madison, however, the opportunity intrigued her and the timing was right for her personally to make a move.
“I loved the amenities Madison offered,” commented Bladow. “I think there is this misconception that Wausau doesn’t offer the same lifestyle that some of their trendier counterparts do. It took me a bit to understand that here in Wausau I still had access to a lot of the amenities I had become accustomed to in Madison. Farm to table restaurants, live music venues, a ton of professional and networking opportunities. Awesome recreational opportunities. It took moving here and experiencing it for myself to get it.”
Bladow’s role as a REALTOR® has also offered her a unique perspective given she works with individuals and couples relocating to the area for jobs. “I’ve worked with people who have relocated here, thinking perhaps it is a stepping stone, and turns out, they fall in love with the community and don’t leave,” shared Bladow. “Countless clients have commented how their quality of life has improved in Wausau with short commutes, a great food, entertainment, and art scene, extremely low crime, family-centered recreation, and a less cut-throat, supportive environment for entrepreneurs and professionals to thrive and feel they're making a difference. It’s a unique part of the state. The opportunities are endless.”
Tornow agrees. “My wife and I had done a lot internal discussion about what we really want in a community and it just sort of dawned on us after talking about it for the last 10 years that Wausau really has what we are looking for,” said Tornow. “I’d never discourage people from exploring and experiencing new cities. But having a place like Wausau to call home keeps your expectations in balance. Wausau is a hidden gem. We are happy to call it home.”