By Marie Rohde
Milwaukee developer William Orenstein would like to see policy makers move past catchphrases like “Open for business” and have a meaningful discussion of what it takes to make Wisconsin attractive to business.
“Every politician in the country is running on the platform of bringing in jobs,” Orenstein said.
Every state is trying to create incentives to attract new business, he said. But what they are getting is old business moving from one state to another based on what state is offering the best deal.
“We (Wisconsin) are unwilling to put up enough money to attract businesses,” Orenstein said.
He likened it to the frenzy of a few years ago when states and municipalities lobbied for sales taxes to pay for stadiums, promising that the stadiums would spur adjacent growth.
“That growth never occurred and the taxpayers have gotten wise to it,” Orenstein said. “Nowhere in the country would you get tax money to build a stadium these days.”
What will make Wisconsin attractive to business is if the state makes the traditional investments.
“The way we can compete is by investing in education, in making the community safe, in good schools and public transportation,” Orenstein said. “You need to eliminate your ghetto and race gap.”
Not everyone agrees, Orenstein acknowledges, but he says there’s been little debate — just rhetoric.
Orenstein, the managing partner in Ivory Retail/Office LLC, took the old Marshall Field’s department store at 111 W. Wisconsin Ave. in Milwaukee (some of you may remember it as Gimbel’s) and developed a hotel, retail and office space.
The investment was a good one for the city. Taxes jumped from $85,000 a year to over $1 million. The project also saved one of the city’s greatest historic treasures.
Marie Rohde is a staff writer at The Daily Reporter. She is also one of Milwaukee’s greatest treasures.