For Economic Growth, Milwaukee Region Chooses Collaboration Over Competition

When Omnicare announced in late 2011 that they planned to move their headquarters from Covington across the river to downtown Cincinnati, it showcased the intense regional competition for jobs and economic development.

Due to the region’s particularly fragmented setup of multiple states, counties, cities and townships, a myriad of governments and development entities tout their respective advantages in workforce training, tax incentives, and infrastructure access, to lure development from out of the area, but also from neighboring localities; and companies have been more than happy to float from one place to the next in order to take advantage of those incentives.

Yet, data shows that while this desire to expand the local tax base is enticing, it amounts to little or no new jobs or income for the region as a whole. Rather, the habit is more cannibalistic in nature, especially given that cities today are competing not just with their neighbors, but also with far-flung metropolitan areas around the world.

While both unique and similar Cincinnati in many ways, Milwaukee and its surrounding areas have taken a wholly different approach to that of Greater Cincinnati.

When current Mayor Tom Barrett (D) was elected in 2004, he was intently focused on improving economic development within Milwaukee proper. To achieve this, local leaders came together to form the Milwaukee 7 – an economic development organization for the seven counties in the region. To help curb damaging intra-regional competition, the group agreed to a code-of-ethics where they promised to not steal jobs from one another, but rather focus on economic development cooperation.

M7’s metropolitan business plan is now the foundation for regional development, but the group also recognizes that a thriving region is dependent on an also-successful inner-city. For this, the City of Milwaukee develops its own economic development plan that uses ideas from, and coordinates common areas with, the regional plan. This helps connects local revitalization efforts with regional economic development strategies.

Again, rather than attempting to lure firms from outside the area, local officials recognized their competitive advantage in numerous areas and chose to reinforce those. Specifically, M7 identified the area’s competitive advantages in three areas: water technology; energy, power and controls manufacturing; and food and beverage.

To ensure that the region remains attractive and stays on the cutting edge of business and technology, local officials have created numerous entities to promote and develop industry throughout the region. Each of the three industry clusters have a respective local organization that has developed clear-cut plans to encourage innovation and collaboration to grow the industry.

Going a step further, the Milwaukee region has also created a global trade and investment strategy in order to attract foreign firms and capital.

The results of this intra-regional collaboration have been positive. In November 2015, UrbanCincy published a story about Milwaukee’s burgeoning water industry that is transforming a once-decrepit manufacturing area into a modern industrial center.

Like many other cities in the industrial Midwest, Milwaukee has hundreds of vacant industrial buildings and acres of abandoned land. Millions of dollars have been spent in redevelopment efforts, with areas like the Menomonee Valley seeing food and beverage industry expansion there, and a former Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery being converted into residential spaces to bring workers closer to the new jobs downtown.

In a region with one of the highest percentages of concentrated poverty in the nation, officials are hoping the efforts will ensure that redevelopment and economic opportunities are broad-based and accessible.

A regional talent partnership is being used to help grow talent that caters to the three industry clusters; and construction projects with public support are required to hire locally. Those firms help train and hire under-employed and unemployed Milwaukeeans through collaboration with organizations like the Wisconsin Regional Planning Partnership.

In the low-income, northwest section of Milwaukee, an 80-acre brownfield site called “Century City” is being redeveloped into a Center for Advanced Manufacturing. And with development booming in downtown Milwaukee, funds generated from those investments are being redirected into numerous projects in other parts of the city, like transportation and community development organization funding.

While it is too early to judge some of the results seen thus far, the Milwaukee region is now more productive than it was at the turn of the century, and it is adding both jobs and residents. At the same time, more citizens are employed, and wages in the area are higher than the national average.

The Cincinnati region has, in recent years, begun making concentrated efforts at developing similar programs. However, many of the programs have been focused at the city-level. Until the region establishes a similar regional partnership that gets everyone working toward the same goals, it is unlikely that similar results will be seen here.

PHOTOS: Covington Celebrates Unveiling of Region’s First Parklets

On Friday, Covington became the first community in the region to fully embrace the idea of transforming on-street parking spaces into usable space for people.

The public celebration marked the culmination of a months-long competition aimed at rethinking the space typically used to store private automobiles. In total, five parklets made their debut in Covington’s downtown thanks to a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Bank/Haile Foundation that was awarded to Renaissance Covington for the project.

Organizers of the effort say that, beyond re-imagining on-street parking spaces, they hope the project will help link the city’s MainStrasse and Renaissance districts at a time when investment continues to flow to the area.

Each of the five parklets take on a different life and activate the streetscape in a different way. This was purposefully done in order to create parklets that were responsive to their surroundings. As such, each designer was required to partner and work with the adjacent business owner as part of the effort.

Those businesses include Inspirado at Madison Gallery, Cutman Barbershop, Left Bank Coffeehouse, Stoney’s Village Toy Shoppe and Braxton Brewing Company.

Cities throughout North America have taken a different approach toward managing and regulating parklets, but in Covington these five installations will be allowed to stay in place for six months. Afterward, the parklets will be taken down for the cold winter season.

Covington city officials have no word as to what the future will hold for these or other potential parklets; but for now, you can go check them out for yourself at any time.

Neighborhood Development Strategies Focus of Niehoff Urban Studio Event

Cincinnati is a city known for its unique and dynamic neighborhoods; and over the past few years many of these neighborhoods have transitioned through the work and dedication of community development groups, active and engaged stakeholders and residents, and the assistance of leading experts in the field.

Successes like new developments, restoration of historic buildings, and implementation of placemaking strategies, however, have not come without challenges and lessons learned. Building healthy and resilient places, such as in some of the neighborhoods of Cincinnati, is the focus of this semester’s Neihoff Studio open house.

The Niehoff Urban Studio and UrbanCincy have invited several community development experts to gather for an in-depth discussion on creating success in several of Cincinnati’s great neighborhoods on Thursday, April 21.

Building on the second year of the Building Healthy and Resilient Places theme, the open house is the culmination of a semester-long effort by DAAP students working with six neighborhoods in Cincinnati and Covington to identify potential redevelopment opportunities in neighborhoods such as Roselawn, College Hill, Walnut Hills, East Walnut Hills, North Avondale, Price Hill, and downtown Covington.

Kathy Schwab, of LISC, will present awards to the winning student group.

“Our theme is Building Healthy and Resilient Places, and students are encouraged to make places that promote health in a number of categories,” Frank Russell, Director of the UC Niehoff Studio told UrbanCincy. “Above all students were challenged with how to make form and program that would make these NBDs ‘centers of activity’ in accordance with Plan Cincinnati.”

The event will culminate with a panel of experts moderated by UrbanCincy. Panelists include Phil Denning from the City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Development; Kathleen Norris, who is the Principal and founder of Urban Fast Forward, a real-estate consulting firm; and Seth Walsh with the Community Development Corporation Association of the Greater Cincinnati.

The event will kick off at the Niehoff Urban Studio Community Design Center on Short Vine at 5pm this Thursday, with the panel discussion starting at 6pm. The event is easily accessible by Red Bike with a station conveniently located across the street. It is also accessible via Metro Bus Routes #24, #19 and Metro Plus.

City of Covington Gathering Public Input On How to Spend CDBG Funds

City of CovingtonThe U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development distributes federal funding to communities throughout the United States each year. The allocation of those funds is based, in part, on need and population, but also on the input provided by the residents of each respective community receiving funds.

To that end, Covington is currently gathering public feedback for how it should use the federal funds it receives from HUD. In most cases communities spend the money on things like homebuyer programs, infrastructure improvements, recreation programs, crime prevention efforts, park maintenance or playground equipment.

According to Jeremy Wallace, Grants Administrator and Real Estate Specialist with the City of Covington, public input is solicited as part of Covington’s annual action plan process for Community Development Block Grant funds from HUD.

“We typically hold public hearings and have stakeholder meetings, but this year we decided to add an online survey,” Wallace explained to UrbanCincy. “We collect all the public comments from the various forms of public outreach and incorporate that into our strategies and programming of these funds to address the needs identified in the pubic comments.”

This year’s online survey will remain open until Monday, April 4, so people are encouraged to leave their feedback as soon as possible so that it can be incorporated into the public record. Once it is all compiled, Wallace says that the City of Covington will put together an action plan and submit it to HUD for their consideration and review.

The survey takes just a few minutes to complete and can be filled out online here: http://conta.cc/1SCUwZb.

Covington’s Parking Plan for MainStrasse To Go Into Effect March 30

After being approved this past October, Covington’s new parking plan for MainStrasse Village will go into effect later this month.

Historically it has been free to park in the area, but the parking plan, which includes new metered street parking, a pay lot, and parking permits, will change that. According to the City of Covington, pay stations will be installed along Main and W. Sixth Street on March 26, signs will go up a few days later, and the pay stations will be live on March 30.

The project is intended to increase parking turnover and create designated parking for residents, so that it is easier for both visitors and residents to find a spot to park in the popular business district.

MainStrasse has seen a surge of new business activity of late. The last year alone saw the opening of Son & Soil, Bean Haus, Frida 602, and Mac’s Pizza Pub. Three more – Commonwealth Bistro, Craft & Vines, and Lisse Steakhouse – are slated to open soon.

Since being announced last fall, the plan has proven to be controversial. Business owners, residents and area patrons have all spoken out both in favor and against the idea.

One of the common concerns is how the new parking fees will affect new and existing businesses. The worry is that the plan will hurt MainStrasse’s ability to compete with other nearby entertainment and restaurant districts including Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, and The Banks, even though those districts also include payment-based parking setups.

The enforcement hours in MainStrasse will be limited, relative to street parking in Newport or downtown Cincinnati, particularly in the evenings, which are prime business hours for restaurants and bars that make up the district.

With street parking free after 5pm, and lots capped at $2 after one hour, businesses may actually still struggle with limited parking turnover during their busy hours at night.

At $0.35 per half hour on the street, and $1 per half hour (with a maximum charge of $2) in lots, the cost of parking in MainStrasse will be somewhat lower than what is charged in Over-the-Rhine, downtown Cincinnati, or Newport, although slightly more expensive than parking in Cincinnati’s other neighborhood business districts.

In addition to visitor-oriented changes, the plan includes modifications to improve parking availability for nearby residents – for a fee.

Sections of Philadelphia Street, Bakewell Street, Johnson Street, W. Sixth Street, and part of the Fifth Street lot will become resident-only parking. Passes to park in these spaces will cost $25 to $30 annually, and each property will be allowed to purchase two passes. Going against national trends to get rid of one-way streets, Bakewell Street, between W. Sixth Street and W. Ninth Street, will become one-way to allow for even more residential parking spaces.

The move will place MainStrasse alongside Pendleton, Newport, and Clifton as areas that also have resident-restricted parking, but it will be the only area charging a fee for the residential permits.

While efforts continue to take place to establish something similar in Over-the-Rhine, such efforts have been stymied due to an impasse between Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s (D) administration and neighborhood residents and business owners. Under those previously proposed plans, Over-the-Rhine parking permits would have cost $108 per year or $18 per year for low-income households.