Downtown Milwaukee has much to offer Kohl’s

As BizTimes has reported in recent weeks, Kohl’s Corp. chief executive officer Kevin Mansell is evaluating “all options” for the location of the company’s new headquarters.

Those options include staying in Menomonee Falls.

No doubt, the Falls has been a comfortable home as the company has grown to become a national retailer.
Sources say Kohl’s surveyed its current management team, the majority of whom expressed their preference to stay in the Falls. So, staying in the Falls would not be a difficult proposition for Mansell to pitch to his board of directors.

However, that would not necessarily be the smart decision for the long-term future of company.

For the baby boom generation, success often meant a McMansion and a minivan in the suburbs. Many prefer to work in isolated, comfortable suburban office parks.

However, that definition is not likely to be shared by the next generation of Kohl’s leaders, employees, clients or vendors.

Generation Y, born between 1980 and the early 2000s, prefers the city to the country or the suburbs. About 88 percent of these millennials would rather live in an urban setting, according to RCLCO, an Orlando, Fla.-based real estate adviser. A similar survey by Johnson Controls Inc. in 2010 found that 70 percent of the Gen Y employees prefer working in an urban setting to a “slightly urban” location.

They want to walk or take public transit to work, to their favorite restaurants and bars, to their gyms, their bookstores, their pharmacies and their churches.

These young people do not fear racial diversity. They embrace it.

That’s why Kohl’s should consider the Park East Freeway corridor in downtown Milwaukee for its new headquarters.

The county-owned land in the Park East has been sitting vacant since 2003.

However, newly elected County Executive Chris Abele is joining with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to make a joint effort to persuade Kohl’s to consider the Park East for its headquarters.

Beyond the demographics of the next generation, the assets of the downtown site are numerous.

Success in the retail industry is often directly linked to the level of corporate creativity. Kohl’s would have a greater chance of attracting and keeping that creative talent at a downtown campus than it would in a suburban office park.

Talent and prospective clients flying into Milwaukee would no longer need to take cab rides around the city to the Falls. Instead, they would go directly to the heart of Milwaukee, where they could directly partake in downtown cultural assets such as museums, nightlife and entertainment.

Barrett is using the example of Target Corp. and Minneapolis as a successful model for a downtown retail headquarters.

According to a report by Johnson Controls and The Futures Academy at the Dublin Institute of Technology, “The Smart Workplace 2030” will feature:

  • A complex and competitive world focused on collaboration, innovation and creativity.
  • An industry focused on knowledge and co-creativity.
  • A culture for collaboration and collective intelligence.

By moving to downtown Milwaukee, Mansell would be skating to where the puck is going to be.

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. (This blog first appeared as a column in BizTimes Milwaukee magazine.)

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