Hey Milwaukee, are ya feeling the love? In case you haven’t noticed, the city has been receiving plenty of praise in recent weeks from Forbes magazine.
It started with the magazine’s April 15 edition, which declared Milwaukee as "The Capital of Water." Forbes noted Milwaukee’s cold climate and its location on the western shore of Lake Michigan at the confluence of the Milwaukee, the Menomonee and the Kinnickinnic rivers. The city grew up on water-intensive industries such as fur-trading, meatpacking, tanning and brewing.
"And while they are long gone or, in the case of brewing, smaller, the suppliers and skilled machinists that served them are still around, building useful things like water meters, pumps and plumbing fixtures – and the city’s future. Implausible as it might sound, Milwaukee is transforming itself from a dying industrial center into a technology mecca – a water technology mecca," Forbes wrote.
The magazine noted that southeastern Wisconsin is home to more than 150 water-related companies, including A.O. Smith Corp. (water heaters), Badger Meter Inc. (water meters), Siemens (water filtration), Veolia (sewage filtration) and Pentair (flow management and filtration).
The article quoted Rich Meeusen, the irrepressible chief executive officer of Badger Meter and co-founder and lead cheerleader of the Milwaukee Water Council. "We know how to handle water…We’re going to position Milwaukee as the Silicon Valley of water technology. If you’re in the country music business, you don’t belong in Milwaukee. But if you’re an expert in water technology, you belong in Milwaukee."
Forbes followed up by including Milwaukee among the top 15 U.S. cities with "Emerging Downtowns."
Here’s what they said about Milwaukee: "The Milwaukee community first turned its sights to downtown in 1988 with the RiverWalk initiative. In the decades since, the city passed zoning changes to encourage developers to erect more housing in the area. In 2002, with the help of $45 million in government funding, the city dismantled the mile-long elevated Park East freeway and replaced it with a landscaped boulevard. According to the Congress for New Urbanism, per-acre land values within the freeway footprint had surged 180 percent by 2006 from 2001. Since 2000, the downtown population has increased by nearly 26 percent compared to the greater city of Milwaukee, which has experienced an overall decline. Jobs in the area increased by nearly 4 percent from 2000 to 2010, and the median income of downtown households has climbed by 38 percent since 2000, compared to 2 percent for the city overall, according to Milwaukee Downtown organization."
To top it off, Forbes included Milwaukee-based Marcus Corp. and Associated Banc-Corp, which is based in Green Bay and has a prominent presence in the Milwaukee market, on its list of "America’s 100 Most Trustworthy Companies," based upon data compiled by GMI Ratings.
"In order to rank companies from the most to the least trustworthy, we look at over 60 different governance and forensic accounting measures," said GMI vice chair and chief executive James Kaplan. "Those companies that persistently display the most accounting transparency; have the lowest incidence of high-risk events; and have appropriate board supervision are typically ranked the highest. Companies on this list reflect these practices."
So, why all the sudden Milwaukee love from Forbes? A Forbes editor noted that the Milwaukee stories were written by different reporters who weren’t coordinating their agendas.
"We don’t have any kind of pro- Milwaukee agenda," Dan Bigman, managing editor for business news at Forbes told BizTimes. "The city just keeps turning up in interesting places."
The Milwaukee gush was capped with Forbes’ evaluation of the worth of Major League Baseball franchises. The Milwaukee Brewers are now valued at $562 million. When principal owner Mark Attanasio acquired the team in 2005, he paid $223 million.
That’s a nice return on investment, don’t you think?
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at email@example.com.