Jeramey Jannene
Empty Storefronts

Meet Emily Robbins

National League of Cities associate will speak about her findings on how cities can support small businesses and use data to make city services more efficient.

By - May 29th, 2015 04:51 pm

The inaugural Empty Storefronts Conference will be held on Monday, June 1st, in Milwaukee. The event, organized by NEWaukee and NAIOP Wisconsin, will focus on long-term solutions to the national problem of empty retail storefronts in commercial corridors. Unlike virtually any other Milwaukee conference, the event will take place in empty storefronts all across the city.

Speakers are coming from across the country to participate in the conference. Urban Milwaukee reached out to those speakers to learn more about what they do and what they’ll be sharing at the conference. Our second preview is with Emily Robbins, Senior Associate for Finance and Economic Development at the National League of Cities. Robbins focuses on supporting small businesses and start-ups for the organization.

Emily Robbins

Emily Robbins

Emily Robbins Interview

Tell us about your organization

The National League of Cities is a membership organization for cities. We help city leaders do their jobs better by providing them with research, best practices, technical assistance, and federal advocacy on local issues.

Tell us about your role with the organization

I interact with city leaders to find out the key issues in their city and the resources and strategies needed to help solve them. I focus particularly on how cities can support small businesses and start-ups, and how they can use data to make city services more effective.

Be honest, what is your opinion of Milwaukee today?

I’ve heard great things, especially about your city’s makerspace.

Why is filling empty storefronts important?

Filling empty storefronts is important because it means that business owners are generating income, residents are able to access goods and services, and cities benefit from an expanded sales tax base.

What are you most looking to seeing/doing/eating/drinking you’re in Milwaukee?

This is my inaugural trip to Milwaukee so I’m excited to check out as much of the city as I can. I love to cook so I plan to bring home some local ingredients, and also local coffee to cold brew. Oh, and obviously I will be saving space in my luggage for cheese curds.

Our readers like to travel, what should they do when they visit your city?

Aside from the typical D.C. tourist attractions, visitors to our nation’s capital should definitely check out Union Market, 14th St. for an array of delicious new restaurants, and the EatsPlace food incubator for a meal from an up-and-coming local chef.

You’re Mayor for a day, you can pass any law, change any policy, fix any pothole. What are you doing and why?

I would invest more in public vocational schools designed to help students discover and train for a fulfilling career path.

What do you hope to share at the conference?

I’ll be talking about cities’ role in addressing empty storefronts, particularly business retention and attraction strategies.

What do you hope to take away from the conference?

I’m really looking forward to visiting a new city, meeting new people, and hearing new ideas about addressing vacant properties. (And the cheese curds!)

Tickets for Monday’s conference are sold out. For more information on other events, please visit

Categories: Empty Storefronts

2 thoughts on “Empty Storefronts: Meet Emily Robbins”

  1. David says:

    Many in small business will locate in older buildings with higher energy cost. An energy study I was involved with in Racine WI about seven years ago showed interesting results. The research was performed on what is typical of older main street buildings, long and narrow, 2-3 story, large front windows, right next to the neighbor and even sharing a common brick wall.

    Results of 40 buildings showed a these top energy savers, of façade (glass) replacement, sidewall and roof insulation and air sealing, lighting upgrade, and lighting upgrade would reduce energy consumption by 40%.

    The surprising result was that the large front window replacement which also can add greatly to the overall building appearance, is a decent energy saver as well.

  2. Bruce Thompson says:

    According to its website the event is sold out.

    City Observatory calculates that the Milwaukee metro area is the most overbuilt in retail space of any major US city (Portland is least). It would be interesting to know whether the presenters agree.

    Also their take on the increasing competition among grocers likely to result in a lot of empty super markets (apparently mostly Roundys).

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