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Regional approach to growth considered

After hearing about Denver’s formation of a regional economic development group
in 1987, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said his city and its neighbors have some
catching up to do.

“It is time for us as a region to put aside those items
that have separated us in the past,” Barrett said. “We have to sell ourselves,
and I firmly believe that cities, regions and states are a product, just like
the neckties you are wearing.”

Tom Clark, executive vice president of the
Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., outlined how local business and government
leaders built a coalition of more than 60 government entities and development
agencies in the Denver area. The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and Greater
Milwaukee Committee — two groups working on their own regional efforts — sponsored
the event with Wisconsin Energy Corp. and the Wisconsin Innovation Network.

The
Denver EDC has a $10 million annual budget supplied by local businesses within
its region, $2 million of which is spent on advertising to brand the area in an
attempt to attract businesses. The Milwaukee 7, a group with the same goal for
the seven counties in the Greater Milwaukee area, has raised $5 million in the
past six months for the next five years of operation, said Julia Taylor, president
of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

Clark said the regional branding effort
and the marketing budget is one thing that keeps everyone at the table.

“If
you don’t do that, then you have to create your own brand for your community,”
he said. “Denver is a great brand. It doesn’t have any cooties on it.”

Code
of conduct

But he said that even more helpful in fostering partnership
are the code of ethics and the basic principals of agreement, a one-page document
that took nine months for local leaders to iron out. The principals make sure
that different local development corporations don’t duplicate services. The code
of ethics lays down the law when it comes to economic development:

  • Communities cannot steal companies from their neighbors.

  • Communities
    cannot sell themselves by pointing out their neighbors’ faults.

  • The groups in the EDC will share information about ongoing discussions with companies
    considering moving to the region.

  • Image
    Tom
    Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.,
    talks about the group’s success in fostering collaboration between different municipalities.
    Clark joked that, although his area produces more beer than anyplace else, Milwaukee
    still hold the record for per capital beer consumption.

    Daily Reporter
    Photo/Sean Ryan

    If a business has to leave a community
    for some reason, that municipality must let the other members know so they can
    try to land the company’s new location.

As proof of success, Clark
pulled up data showing that, in 1985, the Denver area brought in about 30 percent
of the companies that considered relocating there. In 1992, that number jumped
to 68 percent, and it’s at 52 percent this year.

“It’s about the building
and the location, it’s not about the political jurisdictions,” Clark said. “If
you’ve got customers thinking of your region as a place, then you sell the region
first and the individual place separate.”

Like Barrett said, Greater Milwaukee
has some work to do to catch up with Denver, or even with the 18 counties in northern
Wisconsin cooperating under the New North branding effort. Four years ago, the
New North group did a study of local opportunities and has since helped efforts
like bringing the Bemis Co. headquarters to Neenah from Minneapolis.

Taylor
said the Milwaukee 7 recently completed a study identifying regional strengths
—such as its lack of natural disasters — and plans to have a full plan in place
by April.

“Our regional growth is going to come from being a region without
boarders,” Taylor said. “For us to really reach the end zone, it’s going to take
everyone to be at the table.”

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