Coming off a year that brought several significant planned investments in the city, but also announcements about the loss of two major corporations, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called on business and government leaders to work with him to bring 3,000 jobs to Milwaukee over the next three years, during his annual State of the City address Monday.
Barrett cited the planned developments of Komatsu Mining Corp. and Michels Corp. in the city’s Harbor District, Sherman Phoenix in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood and Good City Brewing’s commitment to Century City as recent examples of positive commercial activity in Milwaukee.
But, he said, “unacceptable levels of joblessness” persist in pockets of the city.
Barrett, who delivered his address at Fiserv Forum, criticized the practice of communities using tax incentives to lure businesses away from the central city. Over the past year, Milwaukee has seen two major corporations — Astronautics Corporation of America and Virginia-based defense contractor Leonardo DRS — announce plans to move operations and hundreds of jobs out of the central city.
“Companies of course can move wherever they want, but they shouldn’t be enticed to move from the central city with tax subsidies,” Barrett said. “Tax incentives should be directed to neighborhoods where family supporting jobs can make a difference in creating safe and vibrant communities.”
He said more business leaders need to re-evaluate their site selection methods and reduce barriers for those living in the city from accessing jobs.
“It simply makes sense to put the jobs where the workers live,” Barrett said. “Employers can eliminate hours of commuting-allowing mothers and fathers to attend parent-teacher conferences, spend time with their families, and volunteer in their community. And if that happens, Milwaukee neighborhoods will be stronger.”
Barrett pointed to the Riverworks business district, the 30th Street Industrial Corridor and the city’s near south side as areas poised for investment.
“I am ready to work with any company to show how eager the city is to locate businesses and jobs here,” he said.
Barrett also touted the success of The Hop streetcar, noting that it exceeded projected ridership in its initial months.
“We’re seeing great crowds on the weekends when we’re attracting people to downtown to spend their money in the heart of the city, but we’re also seeing more people riding during the week to commute to their homes or jobs,” he said.
Once the lakefront extension is completed, the Hop will begin providing passenger service to Henry Maier Festival Park, the Milwaukee Art Museum and Discovery World, he said. Design work has also begun on a possible extension to the Bronzeville neighborhood, he said.
Barrett said the city is “fighting back” in the wake of a decade that brought an economic crisis, the collapse of the housing market and hostility toward the city from state politicians.
He praised Gov. Tony Evers, saying Milwaukee now “has a believer in the governor’s office.”