Why building a “new” Milwaukee economy matters to Wisconsin
Milwaukee is a city at an economic crossroads. Having now survived thirty years of slow, steady economic decline, what does the future hold for Milwaukee? This report shows that, without fundamental changes, its economy will become more like Detroit and less like Minneapolis.
This study calls on the incoming mayor to provide a sense of urgency in reviving the city’s economy. Once one of America’s economic giants, Milwaukee has fallen to 44th among the nation’s 50 largest cities in per capita incomes.
Fortunately, Milwaukee has a strong foundation on which to base an economic turnaround. It is an attractive city on Lake Michigan with a natural beauty accentuated by dozens of parks and a fine new art museum. It has relatively low crime for a city of its size. Property owners have experienced healthy valuation increases (averaging 7% in 2002) and the downtown has seen a number of new housing developments. Many technology-related businesses have located in Milwaukee and its performing arts rival those of much larger cities.
In addition, there has been some positive economic news in recent months. Census data show that during the five years between 1995 and 2000, 579 more college graduates moved into the region than moved out. Also, Roundy’s Foods decided to locate its 500 corporate jobs in downtown Milwaukee rather than in a suburban location.
Yet, despite isolated pieces of positive news, this report shows that much needs to be done to repair the Milwaukee economy. It is an economy that has undergone a quiet crisis that has been thirty years in the making. The downward slide of the Milwaukee economy has stunted the growth of the metro economy and has served as a brake on the state’s economy as well. All of Wisconsin has a stake in Milwaukee’s economic renewal.