Standing up against what’s wrong for Milwaukee: Part II

    As you may know, in the past couple of weeks, I have been just hammered on the air and in print by Milwaukee radio bullies Mark Belling and Charlie Sykes.

    It all started when I wrote a Milwaukee Biz Blog that relayed the comments five local chief executive officers made about what a terrible place Milwaukee is to do business.

    Several bloggers and dozens of business and civic people thanked me for standing up for Milwaukee.

    However, the radio guys took my blog completely out of context and attacked me. In reality, my blog repeated the CEOs’ comments about Milwaukee. My blog simply questioned whether any greater good comes to the region when five of its CEOs publicly trash the Milwaukee area as a terrible place to do business during a Public Policy Forum event intended to help the region attract global talent.

    Furthermore, the CEOs’ public condemnations came when the Milwaukee 7 initiative is doing everything it can to convince Miller/Coors to locate its combined headquarters here, instead of Denver.

    Contrary to what the radio boys claimed, my blog did NOT say the CEOs’ comments were wrong or even misguided. My blog did NOT say the Milwaukee region does not have its problems.

    But you wouldn’t know that by what Belling and Sykes said and wrote. You see, the truth is often trampled when it does not fit snugly into their agendas.

    However, unlike most of the local people, public servants, organizations and businesses that Belling and Sykes criticize on a daily basis, I do have a forum or two for rebuttal. And rebut, I shall.

    To be sure, the Milwaukee region DOES have its challenges. They include, in no particular order, high property taxes; redundant layers of government; inner city poverty, unemployment and crime; a struggling Milwaukee Public Schools system; and limited public mass transit.

    But we need to keep some perspective here.

    • The City of Milwaukee gave more than $26 million in financial incentives for Manpower Inc. to build a parking garage at its new downtown headquarters. The city gave more than $2 million in assistance for Bucyrus International Inc. to expand in Milwaukee. The fact that the CEOs of those companies held out their hands, asking for all of the public taxpayer support they could get on one day, and then turned around and stabbed the city in the back at the Public Policy Forum was not lost on many people at the City of Milwaukee Birthday Party Tuesday night.
    • Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley is chalk full of companies that have moved or plan to move from the suburbs, including Taylor Dynamometer Inc. (from New Berlin), Proven Direct (from Menomonee Falls), Derse Inc. (from Wauwatosa) and Sigma Group (from Oak Creek). Others such as Palermo Villa Inc. and Caleffi North America Inc. already have moved and are growing in the valley.
    • Cambridge Major Laboratories Inc., a Germantown-based manufacturer and developer of pharmaceutical ingredients, is planning to build a new 120,000-square-foot facility near its existing headquarters. The project will cost more than $100 million and will create about 50 new jobs.
    • Sargento Foods Inc. plans major expansions for its Wisconsin plants in Plymouth, Hilbert and Kiel, where it plans to create up to 500 new jobs over the next five years. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle announced this week that Sargento will receive $3 million in Enterprise Development Zone tax credits and $1.25 million in additional state assistance to help with the expansions.
    • Developer and philanthropist Joseph Zilber is developing the former Pabst Brewery site and, knowing Mr. Zilber, I have no doubt that it will be a first-class venue.
    • Progress is starting to pick up speed in the Park East Corridor.
    • Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward continues to be reborn with bustling businesses and condominium projects that just a few years ago were unimaginable.

    And the hits keep coming. As the Small Business Times reported in a recent cover story, the City of Milwaukee is now plotting a revival in the 30th Street Industrial Corridor, building on the catalysts of $3 million in state tax credits for businesses that relocate to the Tower Automotive site, $1.7 million in tax incremental financing (TIF) for DRS Power & Control Technologies Inc. to improve the neighborhood, $500,000 from the Milwaukee Department of Public Works to make streetscape improvements and several other components of public assistance that are helping companies such as Master Lock Co., United Milwaukee Scrap LLC and Glenn Rieder Architectural Millwork & Custom Interior Contracting expand in the city.

    Uline Inc. of Waukegan, Ill., recently announced it will move its headquarters across the state line to Pleasant Prairie, bringing 1,000 jobs to a region that is supposedly a terrible place to do business. Uline is investing about $100 million in this God-awful place. The company received more than $6 million in incentives and aid from the State of Wisconsin to come here. In addition to Uline, several other Chicago area-based firms recently have opted to build facilities in Kenosha County instead of northern Illinois, including Vernon Hills-based Rust-Oleum Corp. and Lake Forest Village-based Hospira Inc. Plus, Abbott Labs has purchased 482 acres in Pleasant Prairie with plans to eventually build a massive office and research complex.

    And guess what? Business advocates in northern Illinois are now screaming because Wisconsin is luring away so many of their businesses. At a recent meeting of the Lake County Chamber of Commerce in Independence Grove, Lake County Partners president Dave Young blamed Illinois’ "unfriendly business climate" for the flight of businesses TO Wisconsin.
    "We have a governor (in Illinois) who goes out of his way to antagonize the business community," Young said at the luncheon, according to the Lake County News-Sun. "Unfortunately, right next door in Kenosha County, Gov. Jim Doyle is very adept at business recruitment and actually enjoys it."

    Hello? Must be a parallel universe, I guess.

    I’m reminded of comments made by CenterPoint Properties chief executive officer Michael Mullen, who told the SBT Commercial Real Estate Conference audience a couple years ago that Milwaukee should embrace its place as a de facto suburb of Chicago. Why? Because the Milwaukee region’s labor costs are lower, our land is cheaper, our tax rates are lower, our workforce is better trained and it’s easier to get around here, Mullen said.

    Wisconsin has many competitive advantages, Mullen said.

    So, let’s use them. On Milwaukee!

    Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times in Milwaukee.

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