Some business execs support high-speed rail…

Last updated on June 18th, 2019 at 06:20 pm

Several business leaders in southeastern Wisconsin are supporting mass transit improvements in the region, including the $810 million high-speed rail system from Milwaukee to Madison.

“These kinds of projects will create jobs and commerce, all of which are good and the state and our economy could use,” said Bill Bertha, Wisconsin president of Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp. “It will make the business commute and tourism better. We (at the bank) do a lot of moving between Milwaukee, Minnesota and Chicago. This could be a real positive for everybody.”

“Personally, I think it would be wonderful,” said Paul Eberle, chief executive of the downtown Milwaukee-based law firm Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek. “We have offices in Milwaukee and Madison, and just by fact of those locations we would make great use of improved transportation between the two. When I travel to Chicago, the train is an outstanding means of getting work done during the commute. Transportation is a big issue with many employers downtown – being able to get the best possible workers to work in an easy, efficient and cost-effective way is good business.”

“When we’re making investments in future infrastructure, we need to think as a region – we should get this up to the Fox Valley and to Madison and Chicago to get the bioscience (industry) going. I’ve got a 10-to-20-year view of building this region as an economic powerhouse,” said Sue Marks, CEO and co-founder of Brookfield-based Pinstripe Inc.
Some southeastern Wisconsin businesspeople who are familiar with mass transit systems in Europe and other cities say they would like to see similar mass transit services here.

“I had an opportunity to buy a company in France, and I spent a year there, and rail was the standard mode of doing business,” said Dan Collins, co-founder of Waukesha-based Elutions Inc. “It’s possible to work productively for the entire duration of the trip, and there are other benefits in terms of the flexible paths to get there and back within your schedule. You aren’t as tied down to flight times and can still be productive instead of taking your car for a two-hour drive. It has the capability to enhance efficiency from a personal level and allows an employer to maybe expect a little bit more in terms of employee utilization and efficiency. In France, we were able to add a little extra time to our day. We would show up on the train, and it was a real effective way for us to sort of synchronize or get everything in order for our presentations.”

“I have lived in Chicago and I’ve lived in London. I have seen what rail service can do for a region,” said Bob Welke, CEO of Milwaukee-based The Welke Group. “Put that up against the fact that our existing (transit) system is crumbling before our very eyes, and the price of gas is going to go up before it goes down, I think it’s a great thing for the area. I think we have to look bigger picture, what is the high-speed rail between Madison and Milwaukee going to do for the Midwest as a whole? It’s going to be the beginning of infrastructure that connects St. Louis to Minneapolis, and everywhere in between. Europe and Asia figured this out 30 years ago. This is really what it is going to take to continue attracting business to the area.

Improved rail service between Milwaukee and Chicago will provide more significant benefits than service between Milwaukee and Madison, some executives say.

“I would focus more on linking the Chicago and Milwaukee economies, to which high-speed rail could really be an enhancement,” said Ronald Miller, managing director with Milwaukee-based Cleary Gull Inc. “Everyone who comes here from Chicago loves what we have to offer. Wisconsin’s a winner in that trade. Linking those economies would be very positive for the flow of capital and jobs into southeastern Wisconsin. I’m not sure we need an additional high-speed rail line to Madison to leverage the growth that the Madison economy can offer the state.”

“Where I think there should be real emphasis is the Milwaukee-to-Chicago corridor,” said James T. Barry III, president and CEO of Milwaukee-based Colliers Barry. “I would put our resources into the Milwaukee-to-Chicago corridor. I’m not sure the route from Milwaukee to Madison is going to have a great deal of benefit.”

“We are probably a little bit more interested in high-speed rail from Chicago to Milwaukee, or at least the improvement of that rail and the establishment of the KRM (Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail), which has the possibility of stopping at First and Greenfield right in front of our facility,” said John Bernaden, director of corporate communications for Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation Inc. “We have people for example, who live in Kenosha, and commute from Chicago and come into the office three days a week and telecommute the other days. Extra transportation means would also help with recruiting and retaining employees, especially if it makes it more convenient for travel here

Some high-speed rail supporters say the region will benefit when the project reaches its full build-out to the Twin Cities.

“This region will greatly benefit from high-speed rail between Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota,” said Greg Meier, president of Wauwatosa-based PhysioGenix Inc. “It is very wise for us to work together as companies and universities to create a sort of super region, and rail is just one part of making that happen. For Physiogenex, and being in the biotech space, having that easy access to Madison is going to be great for us. I think the rail will allow us to be in Madison more often, it will expand our labor force and make it possible for people from Chicago and Madison to effectively work with us.”

Some travelers could use the high-speed rail and commuter rail services to visit Milwaukee. However, some in the tourism industry oppose the use of a car rental tax to fund the KRM.

“We believe that great destinations have alternative modes of transportation that extend beyond the bus system,” said Dave Fantle, vice president of public relations for Visit Milwaukee. “Generally speaking, we support the KRM, we support the transit initiative, but our only concern is how it is funded and specifically if that means implementation of any further car rental tax to fund those initiatives. By making it easier to get to Milwaukee by offering multiple convenient and affordable modes of transportation will bring more people to our region. I think it can be done. It is being done in other markets, and it’s just a matter of how you do it and the funding questions that have to be answered now.”

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