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Economic recovery also is being felt in parts of the local housing market.
Economic recovery also is being felt in parts of the local housing market. (Photo: shutterstock.com)

Business confidence is on the rise

Several jaws dropped and eyebrows rose in January when BizTimes predicted a robust year of national economic growth for 2015. However, that’s precisely what our data and surveys were pointing to. The headline of the cover story proclaimed, "Ramp it up!"

Well, we’re at the quarter pole, and so far, so good.

A national group of economic forecasters is raising its outlook for the U.S. economy for the next two years.

The March report from the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) forecasts more hiring, a lower unemployment rate, a lower inflation rate and more growth in consumer spending in 2015, compared with the group's forecast in December 2014.

The report also forecasts more investment by businesses in both equipment and intellectual property and modest growth for the U.S. stock market.

"NABE’s March 2015 Outlook Survey panel expects a markedly stronger pace of economic growth in 2015 and 2016 than was recorded last year," says NABE president John Silvia, chief economist of Wells Fargo. "The panelists’ median forecast is for real GDP to increase 3.1 percent on an average annual basis this year followed by a 2.9 percent rise in 2016. This compares to a gain of only 2.4 percent in 2014. Healthier consumer spending, housing investment, and government spending growth are expected to make outsized contributions to the projected acceleration in overall economic activity. Accordingly, recent labor market strength is expected to continue. The panelists’ median forecast is for net new job creation to average approximately 250,000 per month in 2015 and 216,000 per month next year. The unemployment rate is expected to continue its downward trend over the next several quarters, reaching 5 percent by the second half of 2016."

Gross domestic product is expected to grow 3.1 percent in 2015.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) validated the optimism in its second quarter Business Outlook Survey. Seventy-six percent of MMAC busine…

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Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry - along with Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan -  grew the front office staff by 50 percent.
Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry - along with Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan - grew the front office staff by 50 percent. (Photo: David Bernacchi)

Bucks assemble a vibrant business team

Under new ownership, the Milwaukee Bucks made significant strides by building a young pool of talent on the court this season.

However, the organization also has quickly assembled an impressive pool of young talent off the court in the front office. Bucks principal owners Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan moved that front office to 18,000 square feet of space at Schlitz Park and grew the staff by 50 percent to more than 130 employees. The team added 40 new employees to its sales staff.

Team president Peter Feigin seems to be omnipresent and makes himself readily available to the business community and the media.

Among the young new executives who have made immediate impacts in the Bucks organization are vice president of communications Jake Suski, vice president of ticket sales and service Jamie Morningstar, senior vice president and chief revenue officer Theodore Loehrke and vice president of strategy and operations Alexander Lasry.

Of note, Suski has an impressive and long political resume. He previously served as spokesman for former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Utah Gov. and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

Morningstar joined the Bucks after serving as vice president of service and retention at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where she managed the season ticket bases for the NBA's New York Knicks, the NHL's New York Rangers and WNBA's New York Liberty.

Loehrke previously was senior vice president of team marketing and business operations for the NBA.

Alexander Lasry is the son of Marc Lasry. The younger Lasry has built an impressive resume of his own after earning his master’s degree in business administration from New York University’s Stern School of Business. He served in various capacities in the Obama White House and Goldman Sachs before following his father to Milwaukee.

Alexander recently created quite a ruckus on Twitter, where he posted a series of Tweets on the one-year annivers…

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Gov. Scott Walker has done the opposite of Gov. Mark Dayton when it comes to issues of the budget, work  and more. And the numbers are coming in.
Gov. Scott Walker has done the opposite of Gov. Mark Dayton when it comes to issues of the budget, work and more. And the numbers are coming in. (Photo: wisn.com)

State economic policies have consequences

In recent years, BizTimes has published news stories of dozens of Illinois businesses that have moved across the border into Wisconsin.

Most of those companies have moved into Kenosha County. By any measure, the Badger State appears to be taking Illinois’ lunch money.

However, the relationship between Wisconsin and its western neighbor, Minnesota, appears to be a vastly different story. By virtually every measure, Minnesota is taking Wisconsin’s lunch money, according to a recent study by the LaCrosse Tribune, which lies right at the border.

First, a review. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (a Republican) and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (a Democrat) were both elected to office in 2010. They both inherited large state budget deficits.

Walker, who was facing a 9.2 percent unemployment rate and a $3.6 billion deficit, and the Republican Legislature passed massive spending cuts to public education and enacted the controversial Act 10 to require most public employees to pay more for their health care and pensions. Some tax credits for lower income residents were reduced. Business tax incentives were added, and taxes were cut nearly $2 billion through a combination of income and property tax reductions.

Dayton tackled a $5 billion deficit. Minnesota balanced its budget in part by borrowing against its commitment to education aid. After the 2012 elections, when Democrats took control of the Minnesota Legislature, taxes were raised on the wealthiest Minnesotans, and tobacco taxes were increased.

Walker’s tax plan reduced the highest rate for the wealthiest Wisconsinites from 7.75 to 7.65 percent and brought slight relief to all income levels. Dayton’s plan created a higher rate of 9.850 percent for the top 2 percent of Minnesota’s wealthiest. Dayton’s plan increased tax credits for renters – the opposite of Wisconsin, where those tax credits were cut. Dayton also signed a $508 million tax cut in 2014, of which $232 million was aimed at the middle class and $232 million …

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Will we allow Downtown to change, grow and evolve?
Will we allow Downtown to change, grow and evolve? (Photo: Bobby Tanzilo)

Invest in Milwaukee's future

My column in this space and in the Feb. 23 edition of our magazine generated an inordinate amount of reader feedback.

The column was headlined, "Let's get out of our own way." The essence of the message was that downtown Milwaukee stands at a generational crossroads, with several catalytic projects hanging in the balance, including a new arena, a streetcar system, the Couture office tower, a Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Inc. tower and maybe even a 50-story Johnson Controls Inc. headquarters. However, each time a project is proposed to propel the city forward, someone or something seems to pop up and attempts to stop it.

Judging from the feedback we received, many readers feel the same way.

Bob Monnat, partner and chief operating officer of Milwaukee-based Mandel Group Inc., said, "Steve Jagler correctly points out that Milwaukee could very well be on the cusp of greatness – if only we’d let it happen. Our parochial nature – after all over 70 percent of residents have lived here their entire lives – contributes to an attitude skewed against change of most kinds. The fear seems to be based in the belief that 'change' in Milwaukee will cause us to lose those special qualities that we have all come to appreciate. The truth couldn’t be further from this 'no change' attitude. Milwaukee has curated – perfected – every way to say 'no' to nearly any creative proposal brought forth by either the public or private sector. Yes, public funds should be thoughtfully invested, not thrown about, but at some point we have to have the commitment to view long-term investments as such, rather than simply characterizing them as expenditures."

Consultant and BizTimes columnist Christine McMahon said, "Your article, 'Let’s get out of our own way,' captures so eloquently and succinctly the prevailing mindset in Milwaukee. Thank goodness our forefathers had vision. They saw the lakefront as a place where people could gather and create community. Because of …

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