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.

Cincinnati Lags Milwaukee In Establishing Itself As Hub For Water Technology

Water’s importance, not only as a natural resource but as a driver of innovation and new technology, has been much-touted recently. While Cincinnati has hosted meetings and been pin-pointed as a national focus area for water innovation, impressive progress in this sector can be seen further north in Milwaukee.

Sitting on Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is a natural candidate for water innovation technology. As far back as 2006, a group of local business leaders created The Water Council with the intended goal of developing cooperation between the more than 100 water-related businesses and universities, government agencies, and other means of support.

Initiatives like B.R.E.W. (Business. Research. Entrepreneurship. In Wisconsin.) are among the many activities The Water Council supports.

Because of Milwaukee’s important water industry, those groups involved with The Water Council are creating the Water Technology District – intended to be a cluster and hub of innovation in the water industry. The city, looking to help The Water Council incubate water-related businesses in Milwaukee, has committed to developing the Reed Street Yards.

Dissected by the Menomonee River, the Reed Street Yards is a former rail yard, truck depot, and brownfield site in close proximity to downtown and with large amounts of available space for development.

The result has been the Global Water Technology Park.

Infrastructure within the park reflects the intentions of the involved organizations. The new public access road Freshwater Way, for example, is paved with PaveDrain, which is a water-friendly permeable surface. This permeable material was developed by a local company that now rents space in the business park. A special pipe system also helps pump recycled water to buildings to be used in non-potable functions like landscaping.

The city’s gamble on helping create this district seems to be paying off already: they recently attracted the global headquarters of a manufacturer of plumbing products focused on sustainability.

The Water Council’s headquarters is also in the business park, which houses university departments, startups, and other organizations. The space is 100% occupied and there are already concrete plans to open a second office.

Furthermore, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee now has the first graduate program in the country solely for freshwater research in their School of Freshwater Sciences; and they have since established a campus in the business park as well.

Extending beyond only water innovation and technology, the development around this sector has revitalized the local Walker’s Point neighborhood. Formerly highlighted by abandoned warehouses, the neighborhood has seen an increase in businesses and apartments.

Cincinnati, long-defined by the Ohio River, is an obvious candidate for similar development.

In March 2014, Cincinnati hosted the EPA’s Water Technology Innovation Cluster Meeting, the first gathering of its kind for national water-related groups and companies. Confluence, a local water-focused group representing Cincinnati, Dayton, Northern Kentucky, and Southeast Indiana, was present at the meeting.

And on November 12, the Woman’s City Club of Greater Cincinnati hosted an event to discuss how the region’s water technology resources can be better leveraged for innovation throughout the region. The meeting, called Liquid Gold: the Cincinnati ‘Water’ Technology Story, aimed to bring together the several clusters already focusing on this local asset; and featured local nonprofits, businesses, and other groups.

While these conferences show an interest in the topic, the region has thus far lacked a concerted effort on the part of local government, academia, and the private sector in advancing water innovation. Milwaukee has proven that this level of cooperation is needed to jump-start an industry that will continue to grow in importance (and employment) in the coming decades.

All Aboard Ohio Celebrates Recent Successes, Future Plans at Recent Meeting

Last Tuesday, All Aboard Ohio held their Spring meeting at the newly-opened Taft Ale House in Over-the-Rhine.

President of the Southwest chapter, Derek Bauman, ran the meeting, which not only included discussion of advocacy for interstate passenger rail in Cincinnati, but also of the ongoing construction of the Cincinnati Streetcar.

Several community leaders and representatives were present, including Streetcar Project Manager John Deatrick, Metro’s Rail Operations Manager Paul Grether from Metro, the chief of staff for Councilman Kevin Flynn, a representative from the Cincinnati Preservation Society, the president of Queen City Bike, and even Cincinnati Union Terminal’s Amtrak station manager.

To begin the meeting, Deatrick and Grether talked about the construction of the streetcar system, which can be seen directly outside of Taft’s Ale House, and the future operation of it. Deatrick informed the crowd that almost 70% of the construction is complete, which is ahead of schedule, and the city expects the first streetcar delivery by September.

When asked to address the ongoing discussion about the next phase to Uptown, Deatrick declined to comment.

Grether then explained how his organization acts as the conduit for federal funds to the streetcar and will be the future operator of the system. He also discussed Metro’s plans to schedule the streetcar in a manner that complements and fully integrates with Metro’s bus operations, and those of TANK.

Another key point that Grether mentioned is that the technology is in place to be able to give streetcars signal priority, should leaders at City Hall decide that is desirable. Such a move would quite significantly improve travel times and performance.

As the conversation moved on, Bauman spoke about the group’s efforts to establish daily passenger rail service between Cincinnati and Chicago. Not having daily rail service to Chicago damages business competitiveness for the city, Baumann said, considering that Milwaukee, St. Louis, Detroit and Indianapolis already currently boast such service.

The effort has received renewed interest as of late due to the debate surrounding the future of the Hoosier State line, which connects Chicago to Indianapolis. Project proponents scored a big win recently when funding was picked up by the State of Indiana to continue its service. Those efforts even attracted the attention of Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) in a letter he penned to the Federal Railroad Administration about the possibility of future extensions of the line.

Since assuming the presidency of the local chapter, Bauman has made a variety of changes to allow for greater participation and engagement. Meetings are no longer confined to members, for example, and they have begun reaching out to the business community and area universities.

Bauman said that he hopes this approach will help make daily passenger rail service a reality for the Cincinnati region at some point in the near future.

Those that are interested in supporting the efforts of All Aboard Ohio can do so by making a tax-deductible donation to the organization on Tuesday, May 12. On this day the Columbus Foundation will make matching donations to a collection of non-profits throughout the state, including All Aboard Ohio. You can make secure donations to the group on their website.

With Central Parkway cycle track complete, are raised bike lanes next for Cincinnati?

While Cincinnati is the first city in Ohio to build a protected bike lane, it has a ways to go in order to catch up with the amount of bike infrastructure cities all across the nation are building. This, perhaps, says more about how far behind Ohio’s big cities are than how progressive Cincinnati is, but that’s a topic of discussion for another day.

As the U.S. DOT moves forward with new standards for protected bike lanes, some North American cities are now looking at raised bike lanes as the next bit of evolution for the infrastructure. More from Urbanful:

Raised bike lanes, popular in Europe and present in a smattering of streets in several U.S. cities, provide extra protection for cyclists, drivers and pedestrians thanks to a slight change in perspective—or in this case, elevation.

But more U.S. cities are trying out the idea: San Francisco is getting its first raised bike lane–higher than vehicular traffic, but lower than the sidewalk–on one block of Valencia Street as part of the Mission Valencia Green Gateway project, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition reports. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2015.

Cincinnati Posts Population Gain for Second Consecutive Year

Cincinnati has added about 1,000 new people since the decennial census in 2010, according to new estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The modest increase comes from two consecutive years of population gains that followed an immediate downward revision after the 2010 Census. The increase also means that just Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton were the only big cities (more than 50,000 people) in Ohio to post gains.

Columbus and Cincinnati, meanwhile, were the only big cities to post population gains for the past two years.

The population estimates are derived using the 2010 Census as a baseline and then factoring in new permitted residential construction and mobile homes, and subtracting out the estimated number of homes lost each year. As a result, all of the annual estimates should come with a grain of salt.

Ohio Cities Comparison

With that said, Dayton’s population gains appear to be an anomaly, while the increases in Columbus and Cincinnati appear to be more rooted. In any case, the news for Ohio’s big cities is not good as the rest all lost population, especially those in the northeastern part of the state.

Columbus continues to stand out from the rest of Ohio’s big cities in terms of its population trends. In this latest estimate release, Columbus posted the fifteenth largest numeric population gain of any municipality in America; and it comes on the heels of equally impressive gains in prior years.

Some observers, however, would attribute some of the gains in Columbus to its unusually large municipal boundaries that include what would be far suburbs in other Ohio regions.

While Columbus has been growing by about 1.5% annually over the past several years, Cincinnati has been growing annually by about 0.25%.

When compared with other peer cities, Cincinnati’s gains look even more tepid.

Peer Cities Comparison

Of fifteen other cities competitive with Cincinnati, the city bested only five of them in terms of population growth, while being significantly outperformed by most all others. In this comparison, even Ohio’s best performer – Columbus –fares only reasonably well against the field.

For Cincinnati’s peer cities, national trends appear to hold true. Southern cities continue to grow at the fastest clip, but their growth rates are leveling off. In our comparison, Austin, Atlanta and Tampa have all experienced significant declines in annual population growth since the 2010 Census. Charlotte has also experienced a similar trend, but appears to be holding steady more so than its Sun Belt peers.

Meanwhile, while many Midwestern cities continue to lose population, they are doing so at a slower rate or have stopped the losses entirely.

As we previously examined on UrbanCincy, the Cincinnati region continues to grow by about 0.4% annually. The City of Cincinnati’s 2013 gain represents approximately 12.5% of the total regional population growth, and half of Hamilton County’s increase last year.

In a nutshell, Cincinnati is over performing regionally, but under performing amongst its peers. If Cincinnati were growing as fast as Charlotte or Austin, the city would be adding around 9,000 new people every year.