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.

Metro To Break Ground on $1.2 Million Oakley Transit Center Next Summer

At its 2015 State of Metro meeting on Friday, Dwight Ferrell announced that the region’s largest transit agency will be build a new transit center in Oakley, along with a variety of other transit improvements in the immediate area.

The $1.2 million project will get started next summer and be built along the Isben Avenue, just east of Marburg Avenue. The location is in the middle of an area that has been completely transformed over the past two decades, including such projects as Center of Cincinnati and Oakley Station.

The project is part of a larger effort by Metro to overhaul its regional bus system from a traditional hub-and-spoke model, which focused on moving people in and out of the center city, to one that has more flexibility and connects more people, more directly, with job centers throughout the region.

“We are always looking ahead and planning for the future needs of this community,” SORTA Board Chair Jason Dunn said in a prepared statement. “Our goal is to continue to operate efficiently while constantly working to improve service.”

This particular project directly addresses the new vision for Metro by significantly enhancing transit service to an estimated 7,100 jobs in the nearby area, major shopping destinations and the Crossroads megachurch. It also builds on other recent transit hub projects like the Glenway Crossing Transit Center and Uptown Transit District, and the planned Northside Transit Center and Walnut Hills Transit District.

Metro officials say that the Oakley Transit Center will consist of four boarding bays, park-and-ride spaces for commuters, enhanced transit shelters and wayfinding, real-time arrival screens, and a ticketing kiosk like those at Government Square and the Uptown Transit District.

As of now, the improvements made as part of the Oakley Transit Center will immediately improve service for routes 4, 11, 12X, 41 and 51.

While Metro has stated that they are currently short on capital funding for upgrading their fleet, the funds for this project were provided by the Federal Surface Transportation Program, along with some local funds.

CDK Global Appears Poised To Bring 1,000 Tech Jobs to Norwood

On Monday it was announced that CDK Global, an integrated technology and market services provider, would relocate 1,000 jobs to the Cincinnati region. At the time of the announcement, however, a specific site was not identified.

Given the company’s focus, UrbanCincy suggested a site somewhere in the center city would make sense for CDK and their employees. Since that time we have learned that the company will most likely move into the large Central Parke office complex in Norwood.

Located at Montgomery Road and Sherman Avenue, the site is in the heart of Norwood and is just down the street from Paycor’s new headquarters in Linden Pointe. Cassidy Turley lists Central Parke as having a block of 95,000 square feet of office space available following the relocation of Cincinnati Bell’s operations to downtown Cincinnati over the past year-and-a-half.

REDI Cincinnati, the region’s job attraction and retention organization, would not confirm the location, but sources close to UrbanCincy say that a deal is in fact close to being finalized. Representatives at CDK Global also would not confirm the information, but did say that they expect to close on a deal by Monday.

If true, it would follow a trend of major employers increasingly choosing in-town locations rather than suburban alternatives that long defined economic moves over the past several decades. It would also be a major win for Norwood which has struggled to maintain its tax revenues as company after company has left the aging industrial city for other locations.

With annual payroll estimated to be around $45 million, the City of Norwood would receive approximately $900,000 annually in new tax revenues from their 2% earnings tax. This is not accounting for any types of tax breaks that may have been offered by the City of Norwood in addition to those given by the State of Ohio.

The Central Parke complex was developed on the former General Motors production plant that was shuttered, along with its 4,000 jobs, in 1987. Since that time, the City of Norwood has struggled economically and been dealt several setbacks in its efforts to diversify its tax base. Such struggles have meant credit rating hits and caused the city to drastically cut its budget and reduce public services over the years.

While landing CDK would help in the short-term, the future continues to look problematic for Norwood with fewer and fewer resources coming from the statehouse in Columbus. As a result, it may still make sense for a municipal merger with the City of Cincinnati in the future, which is both more economically powerful and stable.

The former office space occupied by Cincinnati Bell is reportedly in good condition and will require minimal upgrades in order to accommodate CDK’s staff. Its location is accessible by two Metro bus routes – the #4 and #51 – and has a Walk Score of 85.

Stars Aligning for Cincinnati to Chicago High-Speed Rail

4123288130_f7b778d9d5_bLocal and national developments show positive signs for America’s oft-criticized national passenger railroad company, Amtrak. A railroad reform bill introduced in the Senate contains many positive changes for Amtrak and local support continues to grow for increased service on Cincinnati’s tri-weekly train to Indianapolis and Chicago.

The Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act of 2015 (RREEA, S.1626) was introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to improve Amtrak service across the nation. The bill addresses several different issues for the railroad, including expansion, funding, and leadership. It also provides an increase in funding levels for the railroad through 2019.

In terms of leadership, the legislation would reorganize the board of directors for the railroad, with two representatives for the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor, two for long-distance routes (the Cardinal), and two for state-supported lines. There would also be one “floating” member.

The RREEA also includes several sections that fuel possible future expansion of the national rail network by establishing a committee to facilitate communication and cooperation between states and Amtrak on state-supported routes. In addition, it would require Amtrak to work with an independent agency to evaluate all routes and review possible elimination of routes, expansion or extension of current routes, or the establishment of new ones.

While calling this clause problematic, the National Association of Railroad Passengers acknowledges that this text includes a “comprehensive framework for analyzing a route that recognize the unique benefits rail service provides.”

Section 301 of the act explicitly requires that the Department of Transportation set up a program to assist the operating costs of launching or restoring passenger rail transportation. The section seems to be a nod towards the amount of routes cut from the system over Amtrak’s 40-plus years of operation.

Additional clauses provide mechanisms for cooperation between states and the federal government, when it comes to addressing the backlog of capital projects within the system, Amtrak’s money-losing food service, and the restoration of service along the Gulf Coast, a line that has been out of commission since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

After the deadly derailment in Philadelphia in May, safety across the network is a major component of this legislation.

Both sponsoring senators touted the bipartisan nature of the bill and Senator Wicker’s office released a statement identifying the national passenger rail system as an “integral part of our overall transportation structure and our economy,” and thanking Senator Booker for his support and help in creating the bill.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation voted on July 13 to include the RREEA Act into the broader transportation bill, the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015 (S.1732).

In the Cincinnati metropolitan area, support continues to grow for the expansion of rail service in the area, especially to Chicago.

The City of Hamilton recently applied to Amtrak for a stop and has passed a resolution of support for increased service. Nearby in Oxford, home of Miami University, initial approvals have been set to create a station for Amtrak, and efforts are currently underway to identify the exact location for that facility.

The effort has also gained support from the University of Cincinnati Student Senate, when they passed a resolution 31-1 in support of increased rail service to Chicago, citing Chicago as “an important transportation hub for students’ co-op travels, as well as an economic destination for students, staff, and faculty alike.”

According to All Aboard Ohio’s Southwest regional director, Derek Bauman, the UC student government president is also coordinating with other local university student governments to obtain resolutions of support; and in addition to Hamilton, both Norwood, where Amtrak employs local workers, and Wyoming, where the Cardinal line runs through, have also passed resolutions of support for increased passenger rail service.

Hamilton County commissioners also unanimously approved a resolution pursuing a feasibility study.

Going forward, Bauman says that there will be a need for increased cooperation and support from local Metropolitan Planning Organizations along the route. In Columbus, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) has actively supported the implementation of a Columbus-Ft. Wayne-Chicago rail line; and in Northeast Ohio, a consortium of local MPOs have banded together and formed a sub-group to support increased rail service to the region.

From here, leadership at All Aboard Ohio says that they hope the OKI Regional Council of Governments will take a similar approach on behalf of the Cincinnati region.

Physical Redevelopment of Cincinnati Also Reinvigorating Local Art Community

Everyone has heard about the craft beer movement and the desires for locally sourced food, but Cincinnati is also experiencing a similar renaissance in the art community.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) has become well-known for the work they are doing to redevelop the city’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Their work has created hundreds of new residences and dozens of new shops. Perhaps lesser known is the fact that many of these residences and shops are being designed and outfitted with custom, local art.

Area businesses have also begun embracing local artists. At Taste of Belgium, owner Jean-Francois Flechet says that they worked with local carpenters and artists to design all the tables, furniture and even the bar itself at their hub restaurant at Twelfth and Vine Streets. They also commissioned a large art installation behind the bar.

Flechet says that they have continued this pattern at their newer store on Short Vine in Corryville, and even more so at their soon-to-open restaurant in Norwood.

“We are working on a really cool installation at Rookwood Exchange with Dan and Steve from Brave Berlin,” Flechet said referring to the two men behind the Lumenocity concept. As such, the installation at the new Taste of Belgium in Rookwood will be of the visual display variety.

“We will have animated projected artwork from three projectors,” he explained. “The artwork will evolve throughout the day and updated on a regular basis. It will be really fun and different.”

One of the more dramatic pieces of commissioned art in the center city is ‘Aluminnati’ at 3CDC’s new offices. There, at Twelfth and Walnut Streets, a massive piece of artwork was commissioned for the office’s two-story space connecting the reception area on the fourth floor to offices above.

“When the design team for 3CDC’s new offices created the grand interior staircase between our two levels, we knew that an original piece of art should grace the two-story wall,” explained Anastasia Mileham, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at 3CDC.

Created by Jeff Welch, the piece is an aluminum topographical sculpture of Cincinnati’s center city – a fitting installation for a development corporation that is solely focused on that geographic area. It was a job Welch says he truly enjoyed, and one that he thinks defines a growing interest in custom artwork.

“I believe they [3CDC] must support local artists if we are to rebuild Cincinnati to the cherished quality level established by our ancestors, who built OTR entirely with local artists and craftsmen,” Welch told UrbanCincy. “My experience with 3CDC is that they are very good at supporting local artists, at least in the capacity of their new headquarters, where they had total control over the project.”

Welch was not the only local artist producing work for the new 3CDC office building, and he believes that the growing interest in Cincinnati for locally produced and original artwork is part of a larger national trend, largely being driven by the Millennial generation.

“I believe there is a definitely a local trend toward commissioned art, design and craft, and I’m banking my future on it,” said Welch. “All the new restaurants, shops and businesses seem to be in a competition to feature local craft, or they are at least assuming that something has to be made local. It’s definitely a trend nationwide and Cincinnati is right on-point.”

In fact, he believes in the movement so much that after relocating to Cincinnati in 2009, he started his own design company called Modularem. It’s a movement that is not just tied directly to art, but the larger identity and culture of the city.

“I had gone to UC for undergrad in the early 2000s and had soaked up a lot of the city’s amazing urban history,” Welch explained. “But when we read about the streetcar project, we were sold. That single project represented so much commitment to progress, and enthusiasm for the future, that we wanted to be part of it.”

While his story is unique, he is certainly not alone. According to Mileham, the changing culture of the city is at the heart of its revival.

“Local art is at the heart of everything our organization believes in, and what this OTR community is about,” Mileham said. “The Italian Renaissance-style buildings we renovate are hand-crafted art, the restaurateurs who start businesses in our commercial spaces are local artists, we program the civic spaces that we manage with original music and local performing arts groups.”