Op Ed

Grow UWM To Grow Metro Economy

More funding should get bipartisan support from governor, legislators. Will it?

By - Jan 16th, 2017 12:06 pm
Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship. Rendering by Continuum Architects + Planners.

Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship. Rendering by Continuum Architects + Planners.

As Gov. Walker, the legislature and the University of Wisconsin Regents address the 2017-2019 budget for the state, they need to be mindful that the Milwaukee was one of three metropolitan areas out of 51 with a population over one million people that lost jobs in 2016. The four-county area lost about 2000 jobs.

The pattern has been there for a decade. The four-county area lost about 3000 jobs from 2006 through 2016, and the two-county Racine metro area lost another 4000.

That is despite the heroic efforts of the Milwaukee 7 Economic Development Partnership over roughly the same time period on 77 relocations and expansions that increased the job count by about 14,500.

The Milwaukee metro area also lost population. Its out-migration was 22,597 from 2010 to 2014. Fewer jobs and fewer people tend to run together.

Without the M7 strategies, the picture would be worse. There are many reasons for the stagnation, including the rapidly increasing productivity of the manufacturing sector, once a source of job growth. Weather, high taxes and crime rates also play roles.

The long and short of these realities is that state and M7 leaders need to take a step back and come up with some additional strategic departures to reverse these unhealthy economic trends.

First, though, we need to face some economic truths:

  • Downtown Milwaukee in the midst of real estate boom, often subsidized by state or local taxpayers. Great! But beyond the initial construction jobs, which are very helpful, such development doesn’t move the long-term job numbers.
  • Every public entity, business and many non-profits organizations have supported workforce training. Again, these programs are enormously helpful. But job creation has to come first.
  • Recruiting from other states and countries is not a winning strategy for Wisconsin. We, of course, need a welcome mat for companies who want to locate here. But there aren’t enough of them to make a big difference. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. smartly shifted funds away from this failed strategy.
  • Jobs are the missing link in the efforts to resuscitate Milwaukee central city dynamics.
  • Our best growth clusters are in areas like finance, health care, IT, business services, education and insurance. They merit maximum support.

So what have we learned and what bold steps can we as a state and region take toward reinvention?

For openers, we have learned what a great university can do for prosperity as we watch the University of Wisconsin – Madison lead its south central region to high levels of prosperity. For my money, I would make the state’s biggest bet on lifting the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee to the status of a world class status urban university.

UWM, our region’s largest and smartest organization, has come a long way in the last two decades, especially in R&D and connecting its expert resources to the state’s powerful business center. Its new School of Freshwater Sciences, for example, is pivotal for the region’s Global Water Council and its 180 corporate members.

UWM is directly connected to JCI for work on energy storage, to Rockwell on the of Internet of Things, to GE Healthcare on computations for embedded systems, to the blooming startup community through the new Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship.

It is increasingly tied to our growth clusters in health care, IT, financial management and insurance through internships, collaborations and the supply of graduates.

I love UW – Madison and its prowess (for better or worse, I took my journalism courses there), but, beyond graduates, Milwaukee does not get a lot of help from the flagship campus. So, the region’s reinvention has to be generated here. The same virtue holds for centering economic development on the four-year campuses in the other regions across the state.

Other states are doing just that as they align and regionalize the structures of their state educational systems and their economic development resources. New North in northeastern Wisconsin has done just that at the ground level, combing its two universities, its private colleges, technical colleges and K-12 districts into a K-20 education council. It is tied closely to its industrial clusters. Ship building is one example.

An emerging master stroke in the M7 region is the accelerating collaboration by the region’s other excellent colleges and universities to create innovation muscle. That is increasingly happening across our campuses, often in alliance with UWM.

In the end, though, to stimulate prosperity in Milwaukee, UWM needs a fairer share of state funding. Our legislative delegation needs to take that on as a bipartisan effort. The pro-growth Democrats, a rare commodity, and pro-growth Republicans need to get their acts together.

John Torinus is the chairman of Serigraph Inc. and a former Milwaukee Sentinel business editor who blogs regularly at johntorinus.com.

Categories: Education, Op-Ed, Politics

9 thoughts on “Op Ed: Grow UWM To Grow Metro Economy”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    They teach queer studies at UWM so clearly they won’t get more funding unless GOP legislators are allowed to pick what gets taught there.

  2. Milwaukee Native says:

    UWM certainly could become an even bigger economic driver. However, for it to get fairer funding, and respect, many GOP legislators will need to overcome their antipathy toward Milwaukee. And their desire to micromanage all of UW, which even conservative commentator Christian Schneider said in JS yesterday is totally inappropriate.

    Idealogues need to quit cutting off their noses (Wisconsin’s treasures and potential) to spite their face.

  3. Barbara says:

    UWM is now an R-1 national research institution. It deserves a larger share of UW System funding proportional to its significance. Madison and the UW Regents need to loosen their grip on UW dollars. And the entire UW System deserves a larger share of State funding, besides.

  4. Big Al says:

    Republicans support education?!? Doesn’t happen, especially not for education in the City of Milwaukee.

  5. Barbara says:

    It certainly hasn’t been happening. Trump spoke for Wisconsin Republicans when he said, “I love the poorly educated.” He should have added, “and I don’t trust the well educated.”

  6. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Republicans in this state, built education, the Dems weren’t even involved till the Progressives died out.
    Knowles combined the school districts to rid one room schools,
    Combined the Tech schools, though MATC is a mess.
    We built Chap 220, Changed revenue financing so that everyone got money. Tommy raised K12 funding to 67%, then Doyle ruined it, by bad management.
    Tommy/Knowles/Dreyfus best education governors in history.
    Scott saved us from the horrible mess of 4 billion in deficits that Doyle and the left dug for us, then developed ACT 10 so that the kids wouldn’t suffer.
    GOP built he whole UW system. Dems did little.
    Doyle cut 300 million, before Scott had to to fix the budget.
    Scott realizes that the Teachers Union is unable to teach kids in bad districts so is getting them educated. Dems have done nothing except make messes.
    List em wha the Dems have done besides feed the Teachers Union over the kids?? Dems have been in charge of MPS and a dozen districts that cannot even teach kids to read. 15% in 3rd grade at MPS. Dems/Left: Tortal Failures.

  7. Ryan N says:

    @WCW the Progressives that grew out of the Republican Party after the turn of the century would be nothing like the Republican Party of today, they would be called “evil socialists”.

    Either way (and this part isn’t directed at you), what would help UWM the most would be to get more school spirit. Every other 4 year university in the state has it, UWM just seems to be “I go to school here and don’t care once I graduate”.

  8. Tim says:

    Ryan N, are you saying that UWM deserves to get the minimal support it receives?

  9. Barbara says:

    A large proportion of UWM students are the first in their families to go to college. An even larger proportion have to work full time or nearly full time. School spirit is something many really don’t have time for. It’s nice for suburban kids if they have the resources and time for it.

    Plus, this is something of a cause-effect loop. School spirit usually revolves around sports teams. UWM has done a terrific job of fostering school spirit with the funds it’s given. A football team is out of the question, but UWM’s basketball, soccer and baseball teams, both women’s and men’s, have excelled.

    So, it comes down to money, for both students and the university.

    That said, school spirit at UWM has gone way up in the past ten years or so. Go to a Horizon League playoff basketball game if you want to see it. The student section is full and loud. On and around campus, you’ll see UWM insignia clothes, backpacks, the works.

    It’s harder to engage older alumni, many of whom attended UWM in the “commuter campus” days and don’t feel the same connection. I believe that our younger alumni will be a lot more supportive of their alma mater.

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