Jeremy Fojut: Create a Department of Transformation

Chief idea officer, co-founder, NEWaukee

Last updated on March 30th, 2021 at 07:03 am

Milwaukee needs notable work. One idea will not resolve the city’s problems; however, if that one idea turned into numerous projects that lead to innovation, behavior change, and saving money, Milwaukee would be set up for a culture shift.

Milwaukee needs a Department of Transformation to solve problems and uncover inefficiencies while also working to improve systems, inspire innovation across sectors, and evaluate outdated projects and procedures.

The Department of Transformation could develop private-public partnerships to build a new economy, design a better, more equitable city, and paint a future vision.

It’s no one’s job right now to seek national alternative resources, reassess legacy solutions that no longer work, or create new approaches to solving problems that have hampered our ability to grow as a city.

Department of Transformation focus areas

Talent

The future of cities depends on the attraction and retention of talent. For decades cities have focused their efforts on attracting large corporations and real estate. In the new economy, cities need to value intellectual capital over physical.

Instead of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), cities should create Talent Investment Districts (TIDs). These districts value the importance of attracting, retaining and engaging People, versus signage, slogans and strategic plans that often sit on shelves.

The future economy

Cities need to play a role in the new economy. The future is fostering intellectual infrastructure in our communities and inside the workplace. While this ultimately falls on the private sector, the city can alleviate some risk with strategic seed grants for scalable companies. We have numerous tax incentives, grants and loans for real estate. We need to take that same approach to entrepreneurs.

The Department of Transformation could reinvent DCD and its approach to economic development by allotting an initial $1 million into a City Startup Grant that awards innovative, scalable, and job-creating startups with a non-dilutive $50,000 grant for locating their founder in Milwaukee for at least two years.

Cost savings and inefficiencies

The Wisconsin Policy Forum found that the number of programs and city agencies involved in housing may create inefficiencies and may be difficult for individuals and families to navigate. The report found the city’s 21 housing programs were complicated, fragmented and redundant, making it challenging for residents to access services.

If Milwaukee had a Department of Transformation, they could run an in-depth data analysis across departments that looks for these kinds of inefficiencies.

Culture

It’s no secret that the city of Milwaukee has a hard time attracting and retaining talent as an employer.

The Department of Transformation could be viewed as a modern-day “suggestion box” for city employees. To empower employees and capture new ideas, anyone that has a vision for improving public service can draft up a plan for seed funding. The city stipulates only that the request pays for itself in five years (funding is dropped if it doesn’t).

Milwaukee’s current culture values longevity over innovation. For the city to move forward, we need a government and private sector that encourage the opposite of longevity.

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

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