Public Policy Forum Blog

What Do Metro Milwaukee Millennials Really Think Of Our Region?

During the past several months, as elected officials, civic leaders, and citizens in Metro Milwaukee have debated the need for public investments in a new basketball arena, a downtown streetcar, and improvements to the region's arts and cultural institutions, a common refrain has been that such investments are necessary for the sake of attracting and retaining millennials.

But how do we know that? Are the urban professional millennials who often participate in public discussions on these matters reflective of the region's entire millennial population? And is it even appropriate to characterize the views and preferences of an entire generation of individuals as if they are monolithic in nature?

These questions have been gnawing at the Public Policy Forum for quite some time, so we decided to do something about it. Working with the Milwaukee Business Journal – whose leaders have been wrestling with similar questions – we secured a grant from Colliers International and partnered with The Dieringer Research Group (The DRG), a widely respected local survey firm, to conduct a survey of Metro Milwaukee millennials.

The survey was designed to better understand local millennials' opinions and perceptions of our metro region, with particular focus on how entertainment, transportation, and quality-of-life amenities measure up in the spectrum of factors considered by young adults when determining where they want to live and work.

The online survey was conducted between mid-October and early November. Responses were received from 486 individuals between the ages of 18 and 34 in the four-county (Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington) metro area. The sampling plan was designed to achieve consistency with the population of the four counties by geography, gender, age, and ethnicity.

The full survey results are available on our website to allow interested parties to peruse them and draw their own insights and conclusions. We also prepared a report – released today – that highlights what we found most interesting and potentially useful to policymakers. Those highlights include the following:

  • Crime and the economy are the factors most commonly cited by Metro Milwaukee millennials as important in determining where to live.  When asked to assess the importance of various factors in determining where to live generally, 86% of Metro Milwaukee millennials cited the crime rate as important and 81% cited the strength of the economy/jobs as important. Also, in an open-ended question asking millennials what they like least about the city, 51% of those surveyed cited a high crime rate. 
  • Metro Milwaukee millennials give generally high rankings to the region’s cultural and entertainment offerings.  Roughly two thirds (68%) of Metro Milwaukee millenials say cultural and education attractions are important to their decision to live in Metro Milwaukee, while 63% cite the importance of concert/music venues.
  • Many Metro Milwaukee millennials value transit, biking, and walking, but higher percentages place importance on good roads and highways. When we asked respondents to assess the importance of various transportation services, well-maintained local roads and streets (80%), well-maintained highways (79%), relatively uncongested highways (74%), and relatively uncongested local roads (73%) were cited as important by the majority of respondents. Pedestrian-friendly streets (69%), effective mass transit (56%), and bicycle-friendly streets (46%) were cited as important by somewhat smaller percentages.

We suggest that several policy implications arise from these findings. Those include the notion that addressing the City of Milwaukee's revenue challenges in a way that could better equip it to address public safety and the roots of crime should be just as much on the radar screen of those looking to improve the city's attractiveness as more traditional strategies, like entertainment districts and enhanced transportation links.

While our survey reveals several important insights into the views of Metro Milwaukee millennials, it has several important limitations. For example, because we only surveyed millennials who currently live in the metro area, the results may not hold much relevance in determining specific policy actions to attract millennials from outside the region. Also, while we would like to be able to do so, we can’t use these results to compare millennials' views to those of older generations, as we only surveyed millennials.

Nevertheless, we hope the survey results will provide valuable context for policymakers and community leaders who are working to define a vision for Metro Milwaukee that will be attractive to younger generations and help us to secure the talent we need to grow a 21st century knowledge economy. 

Rob Henken