Posted tagged ‘Milwaukee’

Wisconsin’s “Left Behinds” Are Ignored

October 14, 2017

The Badger State’s celebrated comeback from the Great Recession has been incomplete. I argue in the first of a two-part series in Isthmus that rural Wisconsin and inner-city Milwaukee remain mired in economic and social pain:

Call it “the two Wisconsins,” as the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance presciently did in 2006 when the nonpartisan budget group documented Wisconsin’s split reality even before the Great Recession soundly fractured the state economy into winners and left-behinds.

Today, while Dane County booms and the bigger cities in the Fox River Valley and western Wisconsin prosper, the rest of the state is largely mired in a downturn that is a recession in all but name.

Wisconsin is not alone. This dichotomy is also America’s story, as the Economic Innovation Group, a centrist research group in Washington, D.C., first documented in May 2016. The EIG study — widely ignored and fraught with political implications, as pundit Harold Meyerson has argued — detailed how painfully limited the economic recovery from the Great Recession (the magnitude of job destruction earned its adjective) was compared to post-recession periods in the early 1990s and early 2000s.

“The 1990s recovery was powered by small counties, small cities, rural areas. It was very much a grassroots recovery where the entire U.S. landscape experienced a blossoming of enterprise,” says Kenan Fikri, EIG’s research and policy manager.

The early 2010s’ recovery was brutally asymmetrical. By the time the U.S. economy pulled out of the recession, the split was extreme between America’s prosperous and left-behind counties.

So it is in Wisconsin. My story tries to define the problem and suggests that our political leaders have yet to come to grips with it. You can read more here.

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Why Milwaukee Needs Chicago

May 6, 2011

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.

To read more, please click here. [Once broken, the link has been restored.]


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