Market-driven revitalization of inner city advances

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The hiring of Art Smith as CEO of the Initiative for a Competitive Milwaukee (ICM) is big step in the group’s drive to reinvigorate inner city economic activity.
Smith, 55, took the reins of the young organization in March, charged with making its goals a reality.
And while his first two month on the job have led to an increased level of activity for the group, Smith says ICM’s foundation still needs to be solidified to ensure the plan has the support it needs to be realized.
He’s approaching it like the business owner he is. Smith owns Keystone Travel Services in New Berlin, a former Milwaukee-based company that employees are now operating. That’s giving him time to shore up the ICM foundation.
"We’re solidifying our finances now so we have the ability to properly work toward our goals," he said in a recent interview at the Greater Milwaukee Committee, where his office is located. "We’re seeking the funding for at least three years of existence." He hopes to have that financing secured by June.
Funds are now in place to support his salary and that of an assistant, but Smith says the organization needs two project managers and an administrative and research person.
The organization, launched last September, is taking a new approach to Milwaukee’s inner city, aiming to use business models to foster wealth-building economic activity rather than the old service models often supported by government programs.
"The business case has to drive it, not my social desire or your social desire," Smith says. "We need to put our resources where we can expect a return on our investments."
ICM is modeled after the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, a national non-profit organization founded by Harvard professor Michael Porter. The Helen Bader Foundation brought Porter to Milwaukee last year – a visit which led to the creation of ICM, with support from the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
Since that time, four industries were identified as existing inner city clusters that could be developed for wealth creation: health services, construction and development, business process service centers, and manufacturing retention and renewal.
While other industries were identified, it was those four that were seen as offering the best opportunities for wealth creation. Efforts are under way to create opportunities for inner city residents to gain skills that could get them better-paying jobs in health care and construction and development, to support existing manufacturing operations. The business process service center sector was identified as a cluster to help grow.
ICM is also developing a cross-cluster training facility and is creating the framework for a $60 million Community Venture Capital Fund.
"It’s all about economic development; it’s not about giving somebody something," Smith says. "We’re looking at it as an exciting opportunity to help create wealth so more inner city families can support themselves."
While he admits it may appear to be a daunting task, "we as a community cannot afford to let it fail," he says.
April 30, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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