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Should Milwaukee embrace its place as a suburb of Chicago?
Should Milwaukee embrace its place as a suburb of Chicago?

Regional cooperation is hard

Should Milwaukee remove the chip off its shoulder and finally embrace its place as a suburb of Chicago?

I remember the first time I heard that suggestion. It was at the 2005 BizTimes Commercial Real Estate & Development Conference, where Michael Mullen, founder of Chicago-based CenterPoint Properties, was one of the keynote speakers. Mullen told the Milwaukee audience that our city should stop resisting and instead capitalize on its proximity to Chicago.

As I looked around the room, I could see jaws dropping.

However, Mullen cited several logistical advantages Milwaukee had over its larger neighbor to the south, including lower labor costs, lower taxes, a better-trained workforce and less traffic congestion.

Eight years later, the issue came full circle again as Mullen was moderating a panel discussion on "Transportation and Logistics in the Tri-state Region" in Chicago.

Mullen asked Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn about the regional potential.

"We’d be very happy to make Milwaukee a suburb of Chicago," Quinn said at the discussion, which held as part of the Summit on Regional Competitiveness at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago on Sept. 27. "I think that would be the way to go."

Annual ridership on Amtrak’s Hiawatha route between Milwaukee and Chicago grew from 397,500 in 2002 to 832,500 in 2012 (a 109-percent increase), and Quinn said the route is the busiest in the nation outside of the East Coast.

One study being done by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Illinois DOT, the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak is examining plans to increase service on the Hiawatha from seven daily roundtrips to 10 daily roundtrips.

At the conference, which was co-presented by the Alliance for Regional Development, Quinn encouraged Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to invest in the Badger State’s share of the costs to upgrade the Hiawatha line and expand the fleet of trains connecting Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport to Union Station in downto…


"Culture of winners" revives Super Steel

Super Steel LLC’s recent designation as the fastest-growing company in the Future 50 for 2013 reflects one of the most remarkable corporate turnarounds in Milwaukee history.

As the Great Recession hit in 2008, the company on Tower Avenue on Milwaukee’s North Side saw its annual sales plummet from about $100 million to $25 million.

In 2010, Paul and Fred Luber purchased the company out of receivership and set about to rebuild the firm, which was founded in 1923.

The first thing Paul Luber did to put the turnaround into motion was to try to convince Dirk Smith to take over the day-to-day operations of the firm.

"I had known Paul for years. He called me and said, ‘We have this opportunity.’

So I came down and looked around. The opportunity for a turnaround was appealing to me," Smith recalled. "We hit the lowest of the low and have been climbing out of the ditch ever since."

Smith previously had owned a company that he sold to Mayville Engineering.

At its darkest point in receivership, Super Steel was down to 170 employees. Today, the company employs 400.

"We’re always hiring. It’s the skills gap thing. We’re always looking to employ the best of the best. People who want to part of a culture of winners," Smith said.

Super Steel’s projected 2013 sales are more than $60 million.

When asked what has fueled Super Steel’s growth, Smith replied, "Our commitment to our customers, employees and supply base. We truly want to be the best solution at all levels."

The Future 50 winners were recently saluted by the Council of Small Business Executives (COSBE) of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) and BizTimes Media.

In addition to Super Steel, the four other companies in the "Fastest Five" of the Future 50 were:

  • EmbedTek LLC, a Hartland-based producer of embedded computer and integrated display solutions with projected 2013 revenues of $15 million. The company is led by CEO Dan Aicher.
  • Patina Solutions, a Milwaukee-based prov…