A group of a dozen Milwaukee community and business leaders, calling themselves Panther Promoters, are forming a new organization focused on advocating for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee receiving “the resources necessary” to be a “world-class urban university.”
The group will be primarily focused on raising the profile of UWM along with resources for the institution. Supporters of the organization include the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Area Chamber of Commerce, Milwaukee 7 and a number of southeastern Wisconsin corporations.
“To be honest, we got a little tired of seeing Milwaukee play second fiddle,” said John Torinus, a founding member and chairman of West Bend-based Serigraph Inc.
Lori Craig, PNC Bank senior vice president and a founding member, noted the success of UWM has statewide implications.
“Milwaukee goes as our flagship campus goes, and Wisconsin goes as Milwaukee goes,” said Craig said.
Rich Meeusen, also a founding member along with Badger Meter CEO, chairman of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, said the group “will work to ensure that UWM wins its fair share of the resources managed by the UW Regents, the governor, legislature and the state building commission.”
A similar organization, Badger Advocates, a group founded as a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization by University of Wisconsin alumni and business leaders, is already lobbying lawmakers on a range of UW System issues from administration to research to tuition, along with state support for UW-Madison.
Torinus said Panther Promoters will be a similar group and will “do all the normal things you do when you advocate for somebody.”
At this point Panther Promoters is a volunteer organization, but Torinus noted those involved have experience advocating for their cause.
“It’s a volunteer group of people who know what their doing,” he said.
The new organization did highlight the building commission’s approval earlier this year of $52.2 million for improvements to the former Columbia/St. Mary’s hospital complex and $33.5 million approved for the renovation of Sandburg Hall.
The university did not get everything it sought for capital improvements as roughly $23.5 million in requests for three projects, including the chemistry building, engineering and math building and IT upgrades, were deferred at the recommendation of the governor.
Panther Promoters also highlighted challenges for southeastern Wisconsin including high poverty rates, out-migration of people, a shortage of skilled workers and a “growing but lagging level of start-ups and venture capital.”
“A vibrant UWM is essential to the mission of moving these crucial metrics in the right direction and creating a vibrant 21st century economy for the region,” said Gale Klappa, WEC Energy Group chairman and co-chair of Milwaukee 7.
The group, which operates independently of UWM leadership and staff, said a near-term objective would be advocating for a formula allocating new taxpayer dollars for UW campuses that rewards those doing “heavy lifting” on access for lower income and minority students.
The state budget lawmakers are currently considering includes additional money for the UW System that would be distributed based on performance. Torinus said it is important the distribution takes into account the different missions of institutions like Madison and Milwaukee.
Panther Promoters plans to point to UWM’s access and diversity missions as one of the institutions strengths. Other strengths the group plans to highlight include UWM’s “growing power as a leading research university,” connections to area companies, emerging role as a hub for entrepreneurship and start-ups, “world-class colleges and departments, such as architecture, fresh water science, film and imaging, geography, accounting and physics,” Division I athletics, and partnerships with other education institutions in the region.