Local chambers of commerce play an important role in promoting a community as a great place to do business, working to help attract other businesses and advocating for pro-business public policy.
The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce does all of those things. But the MMAC has also done a considerable amount of work to evaluate the region’s strengths and weaknesses, to promote its strengths and to seek solutions to address its weaknesses.
MMAC regularly surveys its members, and in its 2018 survey area business leaders identified racial disparities as the region’s biggest problem. It wasn’t the first time Milwaukee’s well-documented problems with segregation and racial inequality had been identified as liabilities by the MMAC’s member surveys, but it was the first time the issue rose to the top of the list.
In response, the MMAC launched the “Region of Choice” initiative, which includes two targets to increase the diversity of southeastern Wisconsin’s workforce by 2025. The first is to increase diverse management among participating organizations by 25%. The second is to increase total employment of African American and Hispanic workers by 15%.
At the MMAC’s recent biennial All Member Meeting, the organization provided an update on the Region of Choice initiative. The good news is that update showed significant progress toward the initiative’s goals.
However, the bad news is MMAC survey results continue to show an enormous disparity between how white, Black and Hispanic business leaders view the region as a place to live.
The MMAC polled more than 2,000 management employees of companies participating in the Region of Choice initiative. Managers were asked whether they would recommend metro Milwaukee as a place to live. The survey asked respondents to score on a scale of 1-10, with 9-10 scores considered enthusiastic supporters, 1-6 scores considered detractors and 7-8 regarded as “passives.” The total score is calculated by setting aside the passives and subtracting the detractors from the promotors.
Among all respondents, the rating was 16. But for African American managers, the rating was negative 37. That’s compared to Hispanic/Latino managers’ rating of 6 and white managers’ rating of 23.
That disparity, particularly the negative perception of the region held by African American managers, created considerable buzz.
“Jaw dropping #s,” Milwaukee Department of City Development commissioner Lafayette Crump, an African American, said on Twitter. “This is awful & must be a clarion call to action.”
The Region of Choice initiative is the MMAC’s action on the issue and participating employers are currently on track to achieve the goals of the initiative.
That won’t solve the region’s problems with racial inequality, but it’s a big step in the right direction. The MMAC deserves a lot of credit for calling attention to the issue and taking it head-on. n