Public Policy Forum Blog

Chicago's new economic development plan a good model for Milwaukee

The Public Policy Forum's November 2011 report on Milwaukee's economic development landscape - Assembling the Parts - has triggered considerable discussion about the need for strategic economic development planning in Milwaukee. Calls for such planning have been championed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's editorial board and echoed by some business leaders. The response from city officials, however, has been tepid thus far.

Part of the problem, as we noted in Assembling the Parts, may be the impression that strategic economic development planning satisfies the demands of think tanks and academics, but fails to have real-world value. If that's the case, then skeptics may wish to check out the plan released by the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago yesterday.

The aim of the 60-page Chicago plan, as the Chicago Tribune puts it, is to "shake up the status quo." The plan is highlighted by a thorough market analysis of the city's economic strengths and weaknesses, which is developed through the lens of five key market levers: clusters, human capital, innovation/entrepreneurship, infrastructure and public/civic institutions. That analysis is then used to establish 10 concrete strategies that "best position the specific advantages of Chicago and the region within the context of the global economy."

The rationale for Chicago's planning process is virtually identical to that outlined for Milwaukee in Assembling the Parts. The Chicago plan's "Call to Action" argues that "an economy the size of ours requires a coordinated, articulated economic development process by which the public and private sectors can align interests, investments and actions." Another key point of similarity is that key consultants to the Chicago planning process included the Brookings Institution and others involved in its metropolitan business planning initiative, mirroring a suggestion by the Forum (and backed by the Journal Sentinel) that Brookings be invited to guide our planning effort.

The Chicago plan also may provide a worthwhile model for Milwaukee as it seeks to define the geographic scope of an economic development planning process. While it was commissioned by the city and its focus is mainly city-based, the Chicago plan also recognizes the regional nature of the local economy. As noted in the report, "the Mayor directed that the plan start with a focus on the city and look outward, facilitating partnership to leverage assets and accelerate growth for the entire metropolitan region."

For those who are unclear about the concept of strategic economic development planning, the Chicago plan offers an excellent point of reference. And for those who are skeptical about the need for such planning in Milwaukee, it offers living proof of its potential utility as a means of establishing priorities and aligning the activities of public and private sector players.

Author: 
Rob Henken