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Milwaukee area has asset in workforce but lacking in other ways

(Photo by Kevin Harnack)

(Photo by Kevin Harnack)

Metro Milwaukee compares well with similar metro areas for its talent pool of knowledge workers, including people in the science, engineering, and technology-dependent fields.

Still it lags in key measures of entrepreneurship, including small-business creation, venture-capital funding, and minority-owned businesses.

These findings come from the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s new Metro Milwaukee Innovation DataTool, an online system that can be used to the public. By comparing Metro Milwaukee with 10 similar metro areas using gauges of economic innovation, it aims to help the region assess its strengths and weaknesses as it strives to have a 21st-century knowledge-based economy.

Our findings show several strengths on which the region’s economy can build. In 2018, the Milwaukee metro area ranked second among the 11 metros included in our DataTool for its concentration of employment in jobs that typically require at least a bachelor’s degree, leading every metro except Minneapolis. Milwaukee has made progress in this measure since 2016, when it ranked fifth.

We also find Milwaukee can compete with its peers in its concentration of scientists and engineers, technology workers, and college-educated immigrants. Patent activity and federal grants for research and development in metro Milwaukee also have increased in recent years.

At the same time, our findings show areas where improvement is needed. The Milwaukee metro area continued its longstanding weakness in small-business creation and venture-capital funding. It ranked 10th out of the 11 metros in small-business creation and, on a per-capita basis, trailed all the other metros for venture-capital funding.

Racial disparities also continue to dampen Milwaukee’s economic prospects; minorities remain less likely to be business owners here than in all but one other similar metro, Cleveland. Although 33% of the people living in metro Milwaukee were non-white in 2016, only 11.9% of the region’s businesses were minority-owned.

We hope our ongoing tracking and analysis of these indicators will help economic-development leaders and others understand how the region is progressing and set priorities for future advancement.

This information is a service of the Wisconsin Policy Forum, a state resource for nonpartisan state and local government research and civic education. Learn more at wispolicyforum.org. 

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