New research highlights Milwaukee’s tech workforce strengths

WI Policy Forum's Innovation DataTool stacks metro Milwaukee against other cities

Downtown Milwaukee skyline
Downtown Milwaukee skyline. Photo by Shutterstock

Last updated on October 10th, 2019 at 04:33 pm

New research from Wisconsin Policy Forum revealed a promising outlook for metro Milwaukee’s talent pool, but certain metrics tied to innovation and economic development also indicated areas of weakness.

The WI Policy Forum’s research comes from a new “Metro Milwaukee Innovation DataTool” – an online tool that explores metro Milwaukee’s performance on 18 indicators tied to innovation and economic development, according to a WI Policy Forum press release.

The tool considers where the four-county Milwaukee metro area stands on metrics tied to economic innovation, relative to 10 other peer metro areas like Minneapolis, Austin, Portland and Pittsburgh.

Regional talent is one of metro Milwaukee’s most notable strengths with Milwaukee having the second highest concentration (219 per 1,000 working-age adults) of employment in jobs that typically require at least a bachelor’s degree, according to WI Policy Forum research.  In 2016, Milwaukee ranked fifth on that list.

Approximately 14 out of every 1,000 working-age adults in Milwaukee are employed as either a scientist or an engineer.  This ranks Milwaukee above the national average with a middle-of-the-pack placement compared to peer metro areas, according to WI Policy Forum research.  This data point is noteworthy since scientists and engineers conduct much of the research and development activity that defines innovation.

Metro Milwaukee’s concentration of technology talent also makes it a competitor with peer metro areas and the nation. About 70 out of every 1,000 working-age adults are employed in tech or tech dependent jobs. This places Milwaukee slightly ahead of Portland and fourth to Kansas City, Austin and Minneapolis.

However, metro Milwaukee is lagging behind in entrepreneurship, venture capital funding and the number of minority-led businesses.

In 2017, Metro Milwaukee attracted less venture capital investing on a per capita basis in all but two peer metro areas – Cincinnati and Oklahoma City, according to WI Forum Policy research.

Since 2016, metro Milwaukee had fewer small and micro-businesses then before the 2008 recession. The loss was unusual since the number of small businesses grew both nationally and in all but one peer metro area, according to WI Forum Policy research.

Milwaukee is also trailing most peer metro areas in minority business ownership. In 2016, non-whites made up 30% of the population, but only 11.9 % of businesses were minority-owned.

As Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy pointed out at the BizTimes Next Generation Manufacturing Summit on Wednesday, Milwaukee’s demographics are shifting. Sheehy said of those in metro Milwaukee age 55 to 64,  18% are African American or Hispanic while in the 5 to 9-year-old age group, 46% are African American or Hispanic, he added.

“So, we’ve got to make sure that we’re preparing those young people for the future because the makeup of our community is changing significantly,” Sheehy said.

Sheehy noted metro Milwaukee’s high concentration of regional talent as being a real positive, but called the data point a “double edged sword” in contrast to the 35,000 unfilled jobs and the 100,000 working-age adults without diplomas, he said.

“There you have kind of in a nutshell the story of the disparity,” Sheehy said. “We have a strong preponderance of bachelor degrees but we also have a large number of folks that are on the sidelines of the economy.”

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