Why Milwaukee Needs Chicago
Modern markets don’t follow political boundaries…but politicians do. This is a problem for Wisconsin in large and small ways. No more so than in Wisconsin’s war-like competition with Illinois for economic development. I discuss the consequences in this column for Milwaukee Magazine:
In search of a better life, my parents decamped from Chicago in 1953 to 16 acres in rural Kenosha County near what is now I-94. I lived a happily hayseed childhood replete with a drafty old farmhouse, a barn, and a menagerie of farm animals and dogs.
My dad, who had been a two-fisted Maxwell Street saloon keeper, was not a gentleman farmer. He wound up working in a warehouse in Skokie, Ill., and commuted at breakneck speed for 25-plus years. (Thanks to a talismanic bumper sticker, “Police Deserve a Teamster Contract,” the cops let him fly by.)
Looking back, I can see that my parents were pioneers, part of that first wave of Windy City expats who moved north of the border but remained tethered to Chicago’s economy. Decades later, Kenosha County is counted in Chicago’s statistical metropolitan area; its biggest for-profit employer, tellingly, is Illinois’ Abbott Laboratories near Waukegan.
And not far from where I once fished for carp and bullhead in the Des Plaines River, the corn and cabbage fields are long gone, replaced by the LakeView Corporate Park. Its 75 companies employ 7,500 people and occupy 10 million square feet of warehouses and offices, according to LakeView’s president, Jerry Franke.
More than half of the companies relocated from Illinois.
“It’s all about transportation,” Franke says of the park’s I-94 location. “When we started here in 1988, LakeView was between two major urban areas [Chicago and Milwaukee], and now we’re in the middle of one big one.”
That brings us to Gov. Scott Walker, who earlier this year ripped into Illinois’ tax hikes and entreated flatlander businesses to “Escape to Wisconsin,” where he had just lowered business taxes.
It made for great theater, but also showed Walker’s cluelessness. He failed to grasp the essential fact of the southeastern Wisconsin economy: Chicago is not its competition. Chicago is its ticket to future prosperity.
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