American Family planning downtown Milwaukee office building

Plans disclosed during naming rights deal announcement for Brewers ballpark

The Milwaukee River runs through downtown.

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 04:48 pm

Madison-based American Family Insurance plans to have an office building in downtown Milwaukee in a few years, the company revealed today as part of the announcement that it will replace MillerCoors as the naming rights sponsor for the Milwaukee Brewers ballpark.

American Family chairman and chief executive officer Jack Salzwedel said the company is working on plans for a “fairly large building down in the core of the city.”

Downtown Milwaukee
Credit: Maredithe Meyer

“(The naming rights for the Brewers ballpark) fits with an overall Milwaukee strategy that we have been working on for probably about a year,” Salzwedel said. “It involves building a fairly large building down in the core of the city. And a strategy that includes more jobs and jobs in the software engineering and data science area. We’ve been working very closely with the mayor to try and look at different sites and opportunities for us in the city of Milwaukee. We announced to our leadership group in Madison this morning that we are committed to building a building, or having a building, in downtown Milwaukee. That site has not been completed yet. But this (Brewers stadium naming rights deal) is just part of an overall strategy that includes a building, includes employees, jobs, it includes the (ballpark) naming rights, it includes (the) Summerfest (sponsorship). Our commitment to Milwaukee has never been stronger.”

Salzwedel later said the company could build a new building in downtown Milwaukee or could move into an existing building.

“We are actively looking at spots to either build, renovate or lease a pretty significant building in downtown Milwaukee,” he said. “We’re looking at old buildings to renovate, we’re looking at potentially building a new building or we could potentially lease. We’ve got a team that’s been working with the mayor and others to evaluate sites. Hopefully within the next 3 or 4 months we’ll have chosen something and we’ll be able to announce that as well.”

Commercial real estate industry sources indicated that CBRE has been touring downtown sites recently on behalf of a tenant that is seeking about 100,000 square feet of office space.

In a press release, American Family said it planned “to create a multi-purpose office in downtown Milwaukee within the next 2-3 years. The office will contain high-tech work such as data analytics and business innovation, American Family agent recruitment and development, and areas focused on community issues and investment, in addition to other possible functions.”

The exact location of the office and the number of employees who will work there are still to be determined, the company stated in the news release.

The employees in the building could be a mix of new jobs and relocated employees, Salzwedel said.

“We don’t have a number (of employees for the Milwaukee office) firmed up right now, but for us it’s not a small number,” he said. “We know that it’s going to be more high tech type jobs, data scientists, software engineers, things like that.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the city is “very excited” about the commitment American Family is making to Milwaukee.

“Jack (Salzwedel) talked about the conversations we have had about American Family’s presence in this community, and the opportunities there for technology workers, to address diversity concerns, there are many, many ways for us to build a closer relationship,” Barrett said. “So, the city Milwaukee is very excited about this. We think this is a beautiful relationship that is going to grow even stronger between your company and this city.”

Salzwedel said the Milwaukee office will be a “main hub” office for American Family.

“We have for some time now been looking at our tech recruiting and how it ties with our brand…and we’ve come to the conclusion that there are a number of cities that could become hubs for us for recruiting and hiring and housing technical talent,” he said. “We have offices in Boston, Nashville, Phoenix, Chicago, (suburban) Milwaukee (in Pewaukee on Busse Road) and Madison. And those will all be hubs for us with Milwaukee being one of the main hubs”

American Family built a three-story, 75,000-square-foot office building on Busse Road along I-94 in Pewaukee in late 2006. The company moved about 250 employees there from its previous location on Executive Drive in Brookfield. That office currently has about 200 claims employees, Salzwedel said.

The future of the company’s Pewaukee office building is not immediately clear, but no changes are planned at this time, according to a spokesman.

“Identifying a location and developing our office in Milwaukee will take two to three years. Over that time, we’ll look at the options for the functions currently housed in our Pewaukee office,” said American Family spokesman Ken Muth. “But for now and the foreseeable future, there are no changes or impacts for people working in Pewaukee.”

The downtown Milwaukee office building would help American Family recruit diverse talent to work for the company, Salzwedel said.

“We think with what’s going on with Foxconn and at the universities, colleges and research centers that are in Milwaukee that it’s a ripe market for us to recruit,” he said. “And it’s different from Madison. Madison doesn’t have as much ethnic and racial diversity, Milwaukee does. So, it’s an effort for us to expand racial and ethnic diversity, inclusion efforts, tech talent and we understand in order to do that we need to make a commitment to the city…we are very committed to racial and ethnic diversity.”

The college and universities in the Milwaukee area provide a valuable supply of young talent, Salzwedel said.

“Marquette, UWM, Concordia is a great smaller school, and Milwaukee School of Engineering, great graduates coming out of there,” he said. “We think Milwaukee is going to be a great spot for new talent for the organization.”

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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