As County Executive, I will continue to bring people together to tackle the practical issues we face: protecting our parks; making our transit system more effective; and encouraging more business development.
As Milwaukee County Executive, my top priority will be economic development. We need new businesses creating new higher-paying jobs that grow our tax base while reducing reliance on residential property taxes.
Milwaukee County has been stagnant for many years. Twenty years ago (September 1999) we had a labor force of 806,256 people and 782,662 jobs in the region. Today we have 823,044 in our labor force and 795,410 jobs (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics). In twenty years, the number of jobs grew by fewer than 13,000. That’s about 650 total new jobs per year.
We can do better. My plan rejects the corporate welfare approach that led to the Foxconn debacle. Taxpayers shouldn’t be directly subsidizing powerful corporations with handouts. Instead, we should be developing resources that will attract businesses by giving them the workforce they need to compete and a desirable community to locate.
My plan rests on three pillars:
Work with Municipal Leaders
As a suburban mayor, I am constantly working to bring new businesses to Glendale. But it often feels like I am fighting this battle alone. I know that other mayors find themselves in a similar situation.
Local mayors and city council members have in depth knowledge of their cities and towns but we often lack the bandwidth to conduct the proper outreach to prospective businesses that might consider relocation. Leadership from the County Executive could galvanize and coordinate the efforts of municipal leaders to bring new businesses and jobs into Milwaukee County.
That’s the leadership I hope to provide as Milwaukee County Executive.
There are other steps we can take as well. Smart investments in our transit system could make attractive jobs more accessible to our residents.
Traditionally, the Milwaukee County Executive has not concerned themselves with economic development. This has been a mistake. We have the tools to improve our regional economy and as the next County Executive, I intend to use them.
Utilizing Milwaukee’s Higher Education Excellence
Milwaukee County is blessed with an array of highly regarded colleges and universities. In particular, The University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee is a top-tier research university that has been squeezed for funds by the General Assembly in recent years. I will be an advocate for restoring the funding needed to retain its reputation for economic development generating research excellence.
Beyond that, we should encourage our colleges and universities to collaborate as much as possible, especially in areas where our region has a comparative advantage. Milwaukee’s rich history as an industrial center provides us with a reservoir of knowledge of, and experience with, industrial engineering. By creating platforms for the engineering departments from our local schools to collaborate and share research we consolidate our place as a national leader in this field. This encourages engineering-related businesses to locate here. New growth areas, such as freshwater studies, should also be promoted.
More high-valued added businesses, means more higher paying jobs and more tax receipts making us less dependent on residential property taxes. Our colleges and universities are the way to attract and build these enterprises.
Supporting Our Cultural Investments
The research on economic development has repeatedly proven that quality of life is essential to attracting new businesses. A thriving arts scene, museums, theaters, parks and other public gathering spaces are the essential features of successful regional economy.
The arts attract top-talent and educated young people who become innovators in business, science, and other fields. We are already blessed to have many talented artists in Milwaukee County in music, film, theater, and the visual arts. But we should aim higher.
Milwaukee provides the exciting urban environments that many artists crave but at a much more affordable cost than cities like Chicago. This gives us an opportunity to encourage them to live and work here.
Supporting the arts means: promoting Milwaukee as a destination for artists throughout the Midwest; connecting incoming artists with housing, spaces to work and practice, and introducing them to the existing art scene; and incorporating art into our public life. A thriving arts community not only attracts innovators, but affluent ‘empty nesters’ who leave the suburbs for urban life and boost our tax receipts.
Coupling a focus on arts with a renewal of our “emerald necklace” of magnificent parks provides vital quality of life elements that will help Milwaukee County’s economy grow with new investment.