WisBusiness: Former Cabinet Secretary Says Milwaukee ‘In Turnaround Mode’

By David A. Wise

MILWAUKEE — Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros listed Milwaukee among a group of cities nationwide that are experiencing a turnaround during his keynote address at a community and economic development summit in Milwaukee today.

Before Cisneros’s address, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett highlighted many of the strides the city has made in attracting and retaining businesses and called for conference goers to proceed with a vision of Milwaukee that makes it inclusive, competitive and sustainable.

Cisneros referenced this and told the group of several hundred at the Midwest Airlines Center there are an “awful lot of indications this city is in a turnaround mode.”

Cisneros pegged the turnaround on a strong national economy that has rebounded as it refocused following an exodus of manufacturing jobs.

Cisneros said the decline in manufacturing has left behind a “sad residue” of empty, blighted factories and depressed neighborhoods that are now being reclaimed and redeveloped in Milwaukee and elsewhere.

One such site, the Pabst Brewery complex, is set to undergo a major redevelopment if the Common Council approves a $29 million TIF package. The council will vote on the financing plan Dec. 12.

Cisneros also attributed the turnaround to a growing minority middle class, city governments that are taking an entrepreneurial approach to growth, large institutions like Marquette University that remained in troubled areas and worked to improve them, and an influx of immigrants breathing new life into areas abandoned by others.

The summit, which is to run through tomorrow, seeks to find ways to create jobs and grow the city’s economy. Today’s events included a panel discussion and a series of workshops on housing and neighborhoods. Tomorrow’s focus will be business and workforce development. Boston Foundation CEO Paul Grogan, author of the book “Comeback Cities,” is slated to deliver tomorrow’s keynote.

Cisneros praised Barrett for convening the summit, saying a similar approach he took while he was mayor of San Antonio led to public support for massive projects that revitalized the city in the late 1980s. Cisneros also praised the new regional economic development partnership Barrett and others have championed, the Milwaukee 7.

Cisneros highlighted the importance of Milwaukee ensuring that its housing stock has a healthy mix of public housing, subsidized and unsubsidized rentals and both entry-level and move-up homes. Cisneros called housing “one of those most durable forms of economic development.”

Cisneros highlighted the importance of dispersing affordable housing as a way to decentralize poverty and allow people to live close to jobs.

Cisneros also stressed the importance of supporting education and small businesses saying both are important to the city’s economic infrastructure.