Image by David Mark from Pixabay
Milwaukee has a reputation as a city where people work hard. With its big-time breweries, precision manufacturing shops, medical and biotech firms, and financial services companies, Milwaukee is a town that gets things done. Now, work of a different sort is paying off.
Officials and local organizers spent months lobbying to win a bid to host the Democratic National Convention in 2020. And last March, the Democratic National Committee announced that it had indeed chosen Milwaukee as its venue. The competition was tough but Milwaukee prevailed, beating out the other finalists, Houston and Miami. (Score another one for the heartland!)
Analysts point to the fact that Wisconsin will be a battleground state in the 2020 presidential race, and choosing Milwaukee to host the convention is a politically strategic move. However, other decision factors certainly came into play as well. Like the fact that Milwaukee organizers raised $10M and demonstrated that the city has sufficient infrastructure to handle the 50,000 visitors the convention is expected to draw.
Another key driver in winning the bid was the convention site, Fiserv Forum, a nearly new $524 million multipurpose arena in downtown Milwaukee. The sports and entertainment hub is home to the Milwaukee Bucks, and it features all the state-of-the-art technology and smart building features that today’s ticket holders have come to expect—and that convention attendees will require.
Playing host to the convention will obviously have a huge impact on the area. First, there’s the image boost. “Milwaukee is a first-class city,” Mayor Tom Barrett said, “and we are ready to showcase Milwaukee on one of the largest stages in the world." Then there’s the money. The four-day convention in July is expected to have an estimated $200 million impact on the region. And much of the investment that’s going into development and infrastructure improvements in advance of the convention should benefit the city for years to come.
Years before Milwaukee secured the bid for the convention, it was pouring money into development, redevelopment, business growth, and property upgrades. By one estimate, $2.9 billion has been spent on development since 2010. The building boom has even transformed the city skyline, thanks to new constructions like the 32-story Northwestern Mutual Tower, the 7Seventy7 apartment high rise, and the BMO Tower, scheduled to be completed next spring.
There have also been infrastructure advancements, such as The Milwaukee Streetcar, known as The Hop. The $128.1M project began offering service in November 2018, and passengers can ride for free through 2020. Plans are underway to expand its routes.
Milwaukee’s commissioner of development Rocky Marcoux thinks the influx of the Democratic National Convention visitors will give the city a chance to show off its entrepreneurial prowess and woo investors from the coasts. “It’s not that people have a negative impression of Milwaukee; they have no impression of Milwaukee,” he said. “I’ll bet roughly 80 percent of the people who will come haven’t been here before.”
That exposure will be beneficial, but that’s not to say that the city doesn’t
already have its own local startup resources and VC support. For instance, Brew City Match, created with a $3.5 million three-year investment from JPMorgan Chase & Co., assists small business entrepreneurs looking to locate their company in Milwaukee’s historical commercial corridors.
And then there’s gener8or, which connects “startups, entrepreneurs, artists, investors, universities and corporations.” The Technology Innovation Center at Research Park offers bioscience labs, light manufacturing, and office space (self-described as a “high-tech haven”). And Startup Milwaukee provides mentorship and capital to help founders launch and scale their high-growth business. Here’s a list of events, resources, and support for aspiring entrepreneurs.
And, if you can't get that Laverne and Shirley song out of your head ...