Dave Reid

A Brand for Milwaukee?

By - Feb 21st, 2010 09:04 pm
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Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

The Milwaukee Common Council recently passed a resolution creating a branding task force for Milwaukee, and certainly there is a place for creating a brand for Milwaukee, but the key to creating this brand isn’t a marketing campaign, catch phrase or tag line.  It is putting action and investment behind the vision, because part of building any brand, is in fact the product.  Further, this branding effort shouldn’t simply be an attempt to attract tourists, but it should fit within a larger vision for Milwaukee.

I believe that larger vision should revolve around the fresh coast image and more specifically water.  Many parts of this vision are still in flux, and there’s certainly no guarantee it will be successful, but creating a vision around water can be appealing to tourists, and be an economic driver for our region.  Water research, use, purification and availability will play a critical factor in economic development in the future and Milwaukee should capitalize on this opportunity.

To do this Milwaukee can’t simply convince people that it’s future revolves around water, it needs to prove it.  The city needs to act aggressively by creating policies, such as WAVE water rates, that can be used to recruit water related industry to Milwaukee.  Additionally, a variety of tax credits, TIF, and RACM bonding need to be available to assist in the recruitment of firms. To get the effort moving forward UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences needs to break ground this year, and Marquette’s water law program needs further exposure to attract more students.  Potentially, an annual Milwaukee Water Conference could be created that would bring in firms and researchers from around the world and expose them to what is happening in Milwaukee.  Finally, the city should create water features, albeit fountains or green features that involve water, as these would be visible reminders for tourists to see and connect with Milwaukee.

A city that seems to of, intentionally or not, followed this pattern is Portland, OR.  Portland didn’t just run a marketing campaign and overnight become Bike City USA.  They built bike infrastructure, held biking events, passed policy that supported biking in Portland, and continue to do so, all of which combined to create the brand.  It is only when action and investment fulfills a vision will a brand stick, so hopefully Milwaukee can look at how cities such as Portland have successfully transformed themselves and follow a similar plan to make Milwaukee the world water capital.

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19 thoughts on “A Brand for Milwaukee?”

  1. Jeff Jordan says:

    Dave, I honestly believe part of the problem is a atmosphere of plenty. It’s hard for the average citizen that lives in the State of Wisconsin that getting excited about water is a big deal. With a small nod to Waukesha County and folks trying to get good water from the rock in Door County, most of us turn on the tap and it’s there and it’s relatively cheap.
    I agree with you and hope the message can be made clear to our citizens. We’ve got a good thing going here, if we capitalize on it

  2. I really like the idea of “water features.” A good opportunity to bring public/private/artists together to create symbols for the city. Plus, I have a strange affinity for fountains.

  3. Dave Reid says:

    @Nate I love the idea of involving this with the art community as pieces of public art.

  4. Dave Reid says:

    @Jeff True. I can definitely see a disconnect between what people experience and what is going in the great world. That said I had an interesting experience with the value of water. I was down in Charlotte a few years ago, and they had all sorts of fountains, but none of them were operating because there was a water shortage.

  5. Dan Knauss says:

    So you are saying the cart is being put before the horse? That seems likely — the branding effort will just be another round of set pieces from marketing people who may even scheme up a newfangled “web-site.”

    Jeff you make an important point, and you make it again when you assume water should be thought of as something to drink. We are not going to bottle the lake or pipe it out of here. As a clean, cheap drinking source it should matter to home buyers and big employers, but as a way to attract industry, water means many other things than something to drink. A way to create energy perhaps, and a means of cooling for big energy users, like server farms. What industries need good infrastructure and cheap water?

    Still, you do not sell a place to people as an attractive place to work and live because it has cheap, clean water. Water will only leap to the top of the list when there is a water supply crisis elsewhere. A lakefront preserved and open for public use is attractive, but Milwaukee is a city with a certain culture and it’s a city of neighborhoods. This is what people looking for a place to live here end up focusing on.

  6. Dave Reid says:

    @Dan I definitely don’t want to see just a new catch phrase or website come out of this “branding task” force. We need to tie the brand to action and $$. I think the fresh coast vision/water capital can work on both a tourist level and an economic level but it needs policy, infrastructure, activities be it conventions, festivals, boating events, and simply action to make it actually work. Otherwise it’s just words.

  7. Max says:

    This definitely appears to be putting the cart before the horse.

    Portland had/has the political will and vision to remake themselves into Bike City.

    What political will does Milwaukee have? What do we want to become?

    Who cares about tourists anyway (yes, I know, we attract our fair share and the more the merrier, yes, yes). Milwaukee needs vision to attract people to work and live here first.

  8. Dan Knauss says:

    Is it still a foregone conclusion there is a big market for “water industries” and a possible “water hub” here? Did anyone ever respond to Marc Levine’s questioning of that bandwagon? If it’s all we’ve got, it’s all we’ve got, but if it’s an uphill battle to grow a water economy, that should be squarely faced.

    Nate did some research earlier based on to 50 most populated cities + Madison and matched NAICS codes (North American Industry Classification System) from http://www.census.gov/eos/www/naics/ and attempted to isolate the ones that broadly relate to the “water industry” as defined by our bankster friends at Goldman Sachs. (See page 36: http://www.questwatersolutions.com/Quest%20Water%20Solutions%20Inc./Home_files/2008%20Goldman%20Sachs%20Water%20Primer-1.pdf ) This was the basis for a location quotient (LQ) analysis on all of the metro areas as the # of employees working in a water industry sector/total people working in the matro area)/(employees working in that sector in all metro areas combined/total people working in all metro areas). An LQ of 1 is average. The industry is considered strong if it’s 1.25 or better.

    Milwaukee ranked 6 out of 51 in valves/automation (Badger Meter’s area). Milwaukee was outside the top 10 in all other water sector categories and came out at the middle to bottom depending on how loosely “water industry” was defined.

  9. Dave Reid says:

    @Max I agree simply branding whatever route they choose isn’t a game changer, and it needs to be about more than just tourists. And certainly it requires the political will to make it happen. That said with the M7 fully behind the Water Initiative, the city move forward on WAVE rates, UWM trying to get a School of Freshwater Science built, the city’s creative TIF plan for the Reed Street Yards and water industry it appears there is some momentum. That said to me the key to make it happen isn’t just a slogan, but these actions, other policies, actual infrastructure (yes some visible signs of the plan matter), and then some branding to sell it are needed.

  10. I am glad to hear that people are thinking about this. The current and future upside potential of being the fresh water city is enormous. Seen abroad for years, the recent decision that stopped Atlanta from taking fresh water from Lake Lanier is just the beginning of things to come. In a sustainable world communities should only be as large as their local resources allow them to be. That is why all these cities were founded where they were, because the benefits of having an abundant water source. I also see great potential for monuments around the lake, river and city that express the intent in built form. This shows the cities dedication to the subject and makes companies feel that they are not at the forefront of fresh water tech if they are not here. The educational institutions (MSOE, UWM & Marquette) are working diligently to promote this. It is not very often you can find this kind of common ground with so many of societies institutions, we should run with it.

  11. KeleMarie says:

    As an individual who recently spent time in Nicaragua dealing with the severe shortage of water in 20 different villiages, water shortage is a key global issue. If Milwaukee can effectively put action behind a ‘water image’ it would be an image that would put it on the map, not just locally but globally. That means good business, growth and development for everyone in the region. Milwaukee needs more than a graphic symbol of a static landmark or images of the past. It needs to start with a vision and the action people take to move Milwaukee toward that vision will ultimately result in the Image we desire. While Milwaukee has a plethora of graphic designers, it’s about much more than that.

  12. Dave Reid says:

    @KeleMarie Agreed.

  13. Daron says:

    Kansas City is the city of fountains. If Milwaukee wants to be the World Water Capital, they’ll have to start by realizing that fountains are not the smartest use of water. Public hand washing stations like those throughout formerly muslim spain, are also missing in Milwaukee. Milwaukee isn’t even close to being the world capital. Singapore gets almost all its water from its rainfall and waste water treatment. They store it in great reservoirs in the center of their island. They recognize the best way to store water is to protect the urban forest. If Milwaukee captures 100% of its runoff, I’ll consider giving them the title, but from what I saw when I was there, it seems like the city planners know no more about water systems than the fools who put the rest of the countries urban landscapes together.
    … well, Portland’s Green Streets program is pretty cool.

    This is like copycat, greenwashing Seoul claiming the title of, “World Design Captial”

    Nothing against Milwaukee. I sincerely hope this works out. Just please, start by making the sea of asphalt around Miller Park porous.

  14. @ Daron,
    I think we all agree that sea’s of asphalt are hideous and should be in filled in some way. But I think the point is that Milwaukee, wither you like the city or not, needs to build on its strengths. One of the big ones we have is access to a large fresh water supply. So we should stay positive and focus on common solutions. For instance, Ancient Rome’s had very fresh water. Why? Because it traveled down aqueducts to the city and the tumbling of the water helped to purify it. There is no reason why water would need to go from a fountain into the sewer. Maybe a fountain can showcase a new method of water treatment. The city can partner with a university or company to design it and it can be a public example of cooperation and technology. Then we can sell that technology to Singapore so they can treat their water more efficiently.

  15. CJ says:

    I was born and raised in Milwaukee, southside. I lived in Chicago for three years (work) and now back in Nashville, TN. While Milwaukee is my favorite city, most Milwaukee city developers/planners overlook one very large obstacle when trying to create an image that will attract more residents – Chicago. Chicago overshadows Milwaukee with nearly every initiative Milwaukee tries to pioneer simply because Chicago has the population, money, and politicians that see a progressive future. Milwaukee has a siginificantly lower population (less tax revenues for planning) and a political arena that supresses much-needed progress for Milwaukee. Ever wonder why Milwaukee still doesn’t have the transportation system needed for the 21st Century? Because your politicians in Milwaukee do not want progress simiar to that of Chicago. MillerCoors lost it’s corporate offices to Chicago. Commuter trains to Chicago. More people travel TO Chicago rather than FROM Chicago. Milwaukeeans commuting to Chicago for work. Even your former Mayor now resides in Chicago! My point? Before the city of Milwaukee can provide such large, world-wide dreams as the Water Capital, the city should consider how it will NOT be overshadowed by the same, or similar efforts Chicago CAN deliver. The first step, in my opinion, is to get the word out to your local residents (most people in Milwaukee do NOT get involved enough in the policital process) and elect politicans who want progress that will NOT be overshadowed by Chicago. Ironically, I had met several people who were born and raised in Chicago who didn’t even know Milwaukee was in Wisconsin…that’s how insignificant Milwaukee is to Chicago. Some even thought Milwaukee was an “extension” of Chicago…suggesting Milwaukee is what it is because OF Chicago. If Milwaukee can brand itself without the overshadowing of Chicago, success will be definite!

  16. Dan Knauss says:

    More leaders, more competence, less stoopid would be nice, yes.

  17. CJ,
    I agree with many of the points you brought up about Chicago. I try to point this out in:
    http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2010/02/04/downtown-history-presents-opportunity-in-milwaukee/
    But I also think that Chicago can be an asset to Milwaukee if the image of Milwaukee compliments that of Chicago. What can you not get in Chicago? A shifting grid of streets creating vistas terminated by visually pleasing buildings or monuments. Areas of pedestrian friendliness in the middle of the city surrounded by shops and restaurants where you can relax and have a coffee. Not just a big public space by the lake. You are right, Milwaukee cannot compete with the American metropolis skyscraper image of Chicago, but there is more than one type of American city. A mid-sized city where people can stroll from public space to public space within the city, catch a show in the art district or walk down a boulevard and see the lake and museum. We have a great lakefront; I love the MAM, summer fest, etc. But Chicago will always trump us at the lakefront and building height that is their image. We need to stress the things Chicago can’t change: Shifting street grid and mid-city public spaces that are all interconnected by pleasant streets. I know I am asking a lot, but at this point what is the downside?

  18. CJ says:

    I think overall, my point was that the city of Milwaukee could (and should) separate itself from Chicago. Chicago wasn’t always a powerhouse for jobs, entertainment, and population. Milwaukee, at one time, was a strong leader in many areas of the economy in which Chicago was not. But that didn’t stop Chicago. It did however, stop Milwaukee. Milwaukee does not need Chicago, and Chicago does not need Milwaukee for continued progress. What does Milwaukee have that Chicago does not? What can residents get out of life in Milwaukee that they could not get in Chicago? I still picture Milwaukee as the all-American city with strong family values, neighborhoods where people know one another, and a VERY clean city all around for it’s residents to enjoy. I would like to see Milwaukee create a new “brand” for itself that does not include Chicago, or does not allow Chicago to supercede that branding. Since both cities share the same water coast, it is very unlikely that Milwaukee will overshadow Chicago with it’s Water Capital initiative…Chicago is well-known for robbing other cities of it’s endeavors.

  19. Eddee Daniel says:

    Hi Dave, I’m sorry I’ve come late to this discussion but I’m glad I happened upon it. I agree with you 100 percent that the branding of Milwaukee, however it is done, should be part of a larger vision. As is clear from many of the comments, the idea of branding Milwaukee as a water hub, which has gotten plenty of press, presents both opportunities and challenges.

    To go back to another of your points, again I agree that Milwaukee needs to do much more than market an idea; we need to invest in that idea. You mention water features and other “green” features and I think this is not only important but I believe that Milwaukee already has one of the best potential and underutilized marketing features of any city its size: its gold medal award winning parks and parkways.

    I’m in favor of following Portland’s lead and going a step further: I can see branding and promoting Milwaukee as an “Urban Wilderness.” Our parks and natural areas are an outstanding part of the quality of life here. I invite you and your readers to visit my website at http://www.eddeedaniel.com/urban_projectdescr.php to learn more about how I’ve been developing this idea.

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