Public Policy Forum Blog

Assembling the parts

In a 2006 report on the City of Milwaukee’s economic development efforts, the Public Policy Forum concluded that “unlike the vast majority of its peer cities, the City of Milwaukee has neglected to sit down with stakeholders and map out an economic development plan. Absent a plan or guiding vision, one is left to conclude that the City has and will continue to engage in economic investments, no matter how worthy, in an ad-hoc fashion.”

Five years later, the economic development landscape in Milwaukee has changed dramatically. Privately-funded entities such as the Milwaukee 7 and Milwaukee Water Council have become prominent players on the economic development scene, suggesting a level of public-private teamwork that had been found lacking in 2006. Nevertheless, important questions remain regarding the precise roles and responsibilities of the various players in carrying out citywide economic development efforts and in formulating the city’s economic development vision.

In a new report released today - "Assembling the Parts: An examination of Milwaukee's economic development landscape" - the Forum attempts to address those questions.

The report commends City and private sector leaders for adding “strength and focus” to the community’s economic development efforts, citing city government’s successful efforts to spur revival in the Menomonee Valley, the ground-breaking work of business-led groups to build industry clusters and support entrepreneurship, and the bold plans of university leaders to establish world-class research institutions. The report also suggests, however, that while we’re assembling the right parts, we may be missing the blueprint needed to build a well-oiled machine.

Indeed, one of the report's key findings is the continuing lack of a true citywide strategic economic development plan that establishes clear economic development priorities, links those priorities to specific strategic objectives, measures each objective with performance indicators and benchmarks, and names the entities to be held accountable for each objective. It cites examples from other cities in which such planning is being used “to meaningfully enhance collaboration and coordination, create new tools, and foster accountability and innovation.”

The report concludes by stating that Milwaukee’s elected and business leaders “should be proud of their efforts to build an economic development infrastructure that has assembled many of the parts needed for success.” It asks, however, whether they now “have the patience, skill and camaraderie to transform those parts into a cohesive and strategically organized whole.”

The full report can be accessed here, and the media release here.

Rob Henken