11 Sep Cieslewicz, Barrett talk economic collaboration
Milwaukee, Wis. – The life sciences, transportation, and perhaps even the 2016 Olympic games are potential areas of collaboration between the cities of Milwaukee and Madison, according to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Barrett, who appeared with Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz in a forum held by the Wisconsin Innovation Network, said the two cities are making progress on their M2 Collaborative and their plans to develop the “IQ Corridor” along Interstate 94.
Given Madison’s success in spinning life science companies out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, success that sometimes has them looking for greener pastures, Barrett said Milwaukee may present an alternative to companies that are inclined to bolt for one of the coasts.
“Madison has done a great job, the university in particular, has done a great job spinning off companies, and many of those companies need workers,” he said, “and what we have to offer in the Milwaukee area is certainly a plentiful labor force and a diverse population. We want those jobs to stay in Wisconsin.”
Barrett cited existing space in the Milwaukee County Research Park, the Cozzens & Cudahy Research Center, and the potential for future space at the Veterans Administration Grounds, where the city has entered negotiations to develop some of the land. “There are a number of facilities we have here, and there are other facilities where we can locate people in the city of Milwaukee, and obviously in the area outside the city as well,” he said. “We’re interested in developing the whole southeastern Wisconsin area, and we want to have stronger ties with Madison.”
The relationship between the two cities was characterized as star-crossed by organizers of the event, but given the background of their respective mayors, there is perhaps no better opportunity for the two cities to forge a stronger relationship.
Barrett grew up in Milwaukee but attended UW-Madison and served in the Wisconsin Legislature. He said his parents actually met on Bascom Hill on the Madison campus.
Cieslewicz grew up in West Allis and transferred from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to UW-Madison in the late 1970s, when he joked that admission standards were much lower.
“I’ve got strong personal ties to Madison,” Barrett said. “Mayor Cieslewicz has strong personal ties to Milwaukee, so it’s a time when you have mayors that appreciate the backyard of the other mayor very much, and I think that’s helpful.”
The two cities are connected by a major interstate, but they have distinctly different economies.
Madison, driven by state government and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which generated $764 million in research spending last year, has found a niche in life science companies spun out of the university. Partly as a result of the high-paying jobs this model produces, Dane County is the fastest growing county in the state, adding about 60,000 residents every 10 years.
Milwaukee, once anchored by tool manufacturing and breweries, has had to transform itself since a devastating recession in the early 1980s. With several of the top 500 manufacturing companies in the nation, Milwaukee still is the state’s key manufacturing center, and has added several cultural attractions in recent years, but it continues to struggle with problems stemming from poverty, crime, and lagging educational achievement.
Barrett emphasized that he was not asking Cieslewicz to “give up” some of the life science companies spun out of the Madison campus, but he noted the cities occasionally are faced with companies that are making the decision to move. In Milwaukee’s case, if they are going to move, his first preference is that they stay in Milwaukee, his second preference is southeastern Wisconsin, and his third preference is the state of Wisconsin.
“And I’m sure he [Cieslewicz] has got an equal preference that he would want them in the city of Madison. If not Madison, then Dane County. If not in Dane County, then in Wisconsin. So we both know that there is a pecking order within out jurisdictional areas where we want to see the economic growth.
“But I think, speaking for both of us, we don’t want to see the other city falter, and so to the extent that we can be helpful, we want to be helpful.”
Cieslewicz touted the level of cooperation in metropolitan Denver, where communities have signed “no-compete” agreements and try, whenever possible, to funnel development to one another. As the mayor of a city that benefits from state government and a major university, both funded by taxpayers statewide, he said Madison should not get caught with a smug attitude.
“We’re doing well because the other 71 counties that happen to end up helping the city of Madison,” Cieslewicz said, “so we have an obligation to give back to the rest of the state.”
Barrett was criticized last week when he denied the city was in the midst of a societal crisis following the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl who is HIV positive, and where one of the alleged suspects is a 40-year-old man. It was the latest in a series of disturbing crimes in Milwaukee’s central city.
Barrett alluded to some of the problems during his appearance before the WIN Luncheon, but mainly focused on examples of progress such as the recently opened Discovery World on the city’s lakefront. At public appearances, he talks about the city’s economic renaissance, and he made it clear that UW-Milwaukee’s Research Growth Initiative, the city’s own attempt to transfer technology from gown to town, is a key part of it.
“That’s a very, very significant piece,” he said. “Chancellor [Carlos] Santiago has made it clear that the research component of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is paramount in his concerns. I see that as a very worthwhile goal, and it’s something I share. I appreciate what he’s doing there, and I think that UWM is in a unique position where it has the ability to grow as a research institution.”
Barrett said transportation, especially the linking of the two cities with high-speed rail, is perhaps the most important area of cooperation. “I think the grand slam homerun is transportation if we can find a way, and this may be decades down the road, of building high-speed rail between the cities,” he said. “The potential for that, I think, would really, really create an amazing energy between the two cities.”
Cieslewicz agreed. “There’s a great deal of commuting between the two cities,” he said, noting the productive time that could be captured if commuters were spending their travel time working in business-apportioned trains rather than keeping both eyes on the road.
With Chicago bidding for the Olympics in 2016, Barrett and Cieslewicz have had conversations with representatives of Mayor Richard Daley’s office, and they believe there is potential – given the sports venues in the area – to position the Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison triangle as one that is helpful for landing the Olympics, and also one that can be tied together by green technology, transportation, and an IQ corridor.
“There are lots of places where we can work together,” Barrett said.
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