Madison, now in an upswing of entrepreneurship and developing startups, can learn a lot from Milwaukee about getting companies to scale up and stay, Zach Brandon, president of the Madison Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday.
“Milwaukee has a 100 years-plus of proving how to grow and maintain and succeed,” he said, noting he wants to be a partner with the state’s largest city. “So there are a lot of lessons we can learn.”
Brandon was joined by Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce at WMC’s “State of Wisconsin Business” event, which was held at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison. Gov. Scott Walker and WMC president Kurt Bauer also addressed the gathering, which attracted several hundred attendees.
Sheehy lauded Milwaukee’s manufacturing prowess, but also said it is a major financial and education center that has gained an international reputation for its expertise in freshwater engineering.
Brandon said the roughly 80 miles between Madison and Milwaukee have become a healthcare technology and software corridor that rival any other region in the nation.
“Starting at the Milwaukee’s Medical College of Wisconsin, go the Wauwatosa Research Park and then hit GE Health in Waukesha,” he said. “Come through Jefferson County and then come into Dane County to GE Health in Madison and come downtown to Capitol Square with all the startups there, out to University Research Park and Fitchburg Technology Campus to Promega and EPIC. That’s 78 miles of health care, health science and health tech companies. That would be a big deal in California, but we need to do a better job of telling that story.
“That should be the world’s predominant health tech corridor, so we need to find ways to work with each other and not fight each other.”
Sheehy said Milwaukee was ranked second in the nation for manufacturing jobs by Forbes Magazine and noted that region ranks well above the national average for its concentration of engineers and other skilled workers. In addition, he said, it is home to 18 Fortune 1,000 firm headquarters.
“Milwaukee is attracting companies because it is globally competitive, with high-value, high-wage jobs that support a high quality of life. Our lakefront art museum’s soaring design symbolizes our creativity in engineering, productivity in assembly and our innovation in use. Architect Santiago Calatrava’s building could only have been built in Milwaukee.”
But he said the city isn’t sitting on its laurels and lobbied hard this past year to get state financial backing for a new entertainment center in downtown Milwaukee that will contain the Milwaukee Bucks’ basketball team’s arena. In coming years, he said $1.7 billion will be invested in downtown Milwaukee.
“It’s important to millennials to have centers like this,” he said, arguing that its construction will spur long-term development in downtown Milwaukee.
Brandon, a former economic development official in former Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration, said he wanted to dispel long-standing myths about Madison that the city’s main attributes are the university and the state Capitol. Brandon said the private sector has boomed in recent years and plays a larger role in the regional economy than other the UW or state government. However, he noted, UW Madison’s $1.5 billion in research funding is a great stimulus to scientific growth and breakthroughs.
“But we are more than a three-legged stool,” he said. “In reality, 74 percent of our (economy) is in the private sector. It is a myth that Madison is dependent on the public sector because that’s just not true.”
In the past 12 years, he said the number of small businesses in the Madison region have grown significantly.
“While Madison has 10 percent of the population, it has 12 percent of the job and 17 percent of the state GDP,” he said.
“Since the recession and even after the passage of Act 10, you see a tremendous spike in private sector GDP. We have 21 percent of newly patented inventions in the state, 50 percent of the investment dollars flowing into high-tech, high-growth companies. And 72 percent of net new jobs in the last decade came in this county.”
— By Brian E. Clark