Every disaster, be it war, depression or pandemic, presents an opportunity for a reset.
The United States rebuilt Europe’s major cities after World War II with the European Recovery Program, also known as the Marshall Plan, named after Secretary of State George Marshall. This pandemic is no exception. It has resulted in thousands of businesses closing forever and many lives destroyed. It has also laid bare the size of the inequity between those who have and those who don’t in this city. However, it has also presented us with the opportunity for Milwaukee to let go of its past and begin again.
In other words, Milwaukee needs its own version of the Marshall Plan.
There are over 70,000 lead laterals that need to be replaced to stop the destruction of the minds of our most valuable and most vulnerable asset, the children. The housing stock in most of our neighborhoods is so old and the supply of decent affordable homes is now an illusion for most low-income families. The digital infrastructure is inadequate to attract 21st century businesses, to keep our digitally minded young people and to provide growth opportunities for low-income families. The strongest infrastructure of all, the family or even the idea of family, has been all but destroyed among African Americans by drugs, violence, incarceration, and racism in just about every sector. But we have an opportunity for a do-over.
Minority business growth
Most of the minority-owned businesses in Milwaukee have less than three employees and no strategy for growth. Milwaukee’s large corporations and institutions should “adopt” these businesses and working closely with them to move the average number to 25 within five years. The large organizations should assign some of their best and brightest to help the owners of these businesses with access to markets, capital and skilled employees so they can provide jobs to their neighbors.
Public-private partnerships on talent and infrastructure development
Corporation, unions, contractors and Milwaukee schools systems should join forces to create the most robust apprenticeship program this country has ever seen. This will expose young people to 21st century careers and inspire them to discover their passion and give them the confidence to turn their passion into a career.
Create a broadband cooperative to build and operate a gigabit network infrastructure and a state-of-art data center, located in Century City, to provide affordable high-speed broadband to every household in the city of Milwaukee and internet access and data-storage to small businesses throughout Wisconsin. The cooperative should be managed and operated by low-income individuals who are trained and mentored by the best engineers available. This will provide qualified employees to fill the thousands of available technology jobs in southeastern Wisconsin and lift families out of poverty.
Rebuild Black families
If the state of Wisconsin does not find a way for African Americans to have the opportunity to clear their criminal records, gain 21st century skills and get access to an abundance of family supporting jobs, this city will never come close to its full potential. I will leave the how to the politicians.
There is no going back to normal. Normal in Milwaukee for 40% of its population was never all that good. This is the time to make sure the next 80 years is exponentially better than the last.
This column is part of “25 big ideas for Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin’s future,” a feature included in the BizTimes Milwaukee 25th anniversary issue. To read other contributions, visit biztimes.com/bigideas