The Corridor Strategy For Development, Cont’d
Earlier this year I wrote a piece for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel arguing that the Milwaukee-Madison I-94 corridor held great potential for economic development in the 21st century. I expanded the piece and gave it more of a Madison focus for this Isthmus cover story.
This is the essence of the argument:
Simply put, that 80-mile I-94 corridor traversing Milwaukee, Waukesha, Jefferson and Dane counties could be the muscle and brain of Wisconsin’s 21st-century economic renaissance.
It also, I would argue, holds greater economic promise for Madison and Dane County’s prosperity than does the Thrive region, the seven largely rural counties surrounding Dane County that community leaders have identified as Madison’s cohort for growth.
Those four I-94 corridor counties cover less than 5% of the state, but have one-third of its population, 44% of its college graduates and almost 40% of Wisconsin jobs, according to the UW-Extension’s Center for Community and Economic Development. The synergy of a great transportation corridor connecting the state’s two largest metropolitan areas seems obvious.
Tom Hefty, the retired head of Blue Cross-Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, made that case 10 years ago when he tried — and failed — to convince Gov. Jim Doyle to adopt a corridor development plan as part of the state’s economic strategy.
The logic: Milwaukee is the state’s finance and commercial capital. Madison is the political capital and home to a world-class research university. Waukesha County is a teeming entrepreneurial beehive. Already a good chunk of workers travel back and forth along the corridor. Major educational facilities, including a rising UW-Milwaukee, prepare the workforce.
“You combine an academic powerhouse with a commercial powerhouse, and you get job growth,” says Hefty.
Do you think that Wisconsin’s languishing economy could use more jobs? The answer is obvious, but the politics here are deeply dysfunctional. Talk about Mission: Impossible. It’s not just Milwaukee versus Madison; their shared liberalism is abhorrent to conservative Waukesha County. Lambs will lie down with lions before the corridor politicians ever work together.
For that matter, Gov. Scott Walker’s successful effort to kill the $810 million federally funded train service between Milwaukee and Madison is just one more nasty episode in that endless grudge match.
But before you turn the page, here’s the thing: The corridor is coming together without these feuding politicians.
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