The former aldermanic aide now works as a community economic developer trying to bring jobs to the city.
Sam McGovern-Rowen has learned an important lesson in his efforts to bring business and jobs to the city’s northwest side. “I’ve learned patience,” he says. “Economic development is slow, we have to approach it from both a short-term and long-term view.”
McGovern-Rowen serves as business and economic development coordinator for the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation (NWSCDC), a non-profit whose mission is to improve low-income neighborhoods in that part of the city through community economic development. McGovern-Rowen applies for federal grants whose funds are then used to provide loans or grants to companies committed to creating jobs on the northwest side. Jobs are a key way to reduce unemployment and poverty in the surrounding area.
Born on November 18, 1975, the 37-year-old has quite a family history. His grandfather was George McGovern, the longtime U.S. Senator, 1972 Democratic candidate for U.S. President and UN ambassador. “He accomplished more by the time he was 25 than most people can pack into 10 lifetimes,” Sam says. Also providing inspiration was Sam’s father Jim Rowen, who went back and forth between public service and journalism, including a long stint as a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and as a top aide to Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist.
Sam was born in Madison and then raised in Shorewood from age eight. He returned to Madison in 1994 to attend UW-Madison for a degree in communication arts, graduating in 1998. After working a couple years at various retail jobs in Madison, he returned with his future wife, Maureen O’Meara, to Milwaukee in 2000. O’Meara went to Marquette for a teaching degree while McGovern-Rowen started working for US Bank’s trust company, which he says gave him a new perspective on finance.
McGovern-Rowen ran for the Third District seat when D’Amato announced he would not seek re-election. In a hotly-contested race involving eight candidates, Sam placed third to current alderman Nik Kovac in the 2008 election. He then began working for the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation. “I wanted to stay in the game, working for the something I cared about.”
He’s been at NWSCDC ever since. Under his leadership the group has closed on more than $11 million in loans. He also was able to get NWSCDC certified as a Community Development Financial Institution. Through this designation, it is eligible to get grants from the U.S. Department of Treasury, specifically from a program that helps markets underserved by other financial institutions.
McGovern-Rowen says the NWSCDC is often the only source of loans to businesses in this part of the city. His office is located on N. 27th and W. Capitol streets, adjacent to the old 30th Street industrial corridor, now known as Century City, that used to employ thousands of people in many factories that now sit empty.
There is a stunning view from McGovern-Rowen’s office on the seventh floor of a building once occupied by the Eaton Corporation (now located in Menomonee Falls), providing an aerial view of the area the NWSCDC is focusing on developing. An advantage of the area is how close the workforce is, as the residential neighborhood is literally right next to the old factories.
McGovern-Rowen has overseen several projects in the area, including the development of the building where the NWSCDC office is located. He also developed the loans for the construction of a library in the area and for a business, Diamond Precision Products, and has helped developed a new business park called Century City Tower. NWSCDC works very closely with the city of Milwaukee on these projects. “The city has the size and ability for these types of projects. We want to be a part of what they’re doing,” McGovern-Rowen says.
He points to the development of the Menomonee Valley as an example of how a once- dormant area can be redeveloped, but also notes the patience that required. “We have to realize it will take a long time to help move the city forward.”
McGovern-Rowen says he’s proud of the work he’s done to bring grants and funding to the area. “All those dollars have helped create scores of new jobs,” he says.
He lives in the Washington Heights neighborhood with his wife Maureen and three young boys, seven-year-old twins Leo and Cooper and 17-month old Eli. McGovern-Rowen says he loves Milwaukee because of how it combines the big city amenities like dining and entertainment with a small town feel.