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Vince Vitrano: Not For Broadcast

Forbes "Comeback" Off The Mark

CREATED Mar 13, 2012
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What’s your definition of “comeback?”

I know mine differs from that of the folks at Forbes.

Did you see the mention Milwaukee got recently in a Forbes article titled, “Ten American Comeback Cities?”

Before I make my point that this contention is seriously flawed, please note that like so many of you, I am proud of our City, our State, and our region. With exception of my years in college and my first job, I’ve lived in Milwaukee County my entire life. Born in the City, raised in Wauwatosa, and now living in another suburb (Greendale) I love Milwaukee.

But it’s time for some tough love, and silly headlines like Milwaukee being a “comeback” city make us feel good, but they fill us with a false sense of accomplishment. We cannot be better if we’re not honest about who we are right now.

The single criterion in the article for declaring Milwaukee a comeback is that… follow me here… way fewer residents are fleeing Milwaukee County.

Hardly sounds like a victory.

Look at the article. It sites population statistics for the County, showing a net loss of more than 5,000 residents in 2010. That’s about half the number who ran away from Milwaukee County in 2005, so the article declares, “Many fewer people are leaving Milwaukee than in 2005.”


That’s like the ER declaring a trauma patient on the road to recovery when the doctors haven’t even stopped the bleeding! “Sure, the patient is still slowly bleeding out… but you should have seen the guy when he first came in here… way worse.”

I was downtown for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade this weekend and saw many great things. The streets were filled with people, and celebration of culture. New high rises are going up, including the Moderne on the corner of 3rd and Juneau. A recent trip to Betty Brinn with the kids, and conversations about all the usual events in and around town for our family have made me excited for another great Milwaukee Summer.

Still, that’s hardly the end of the story. I won’t enumerate our many shortcomings, but rather will offer a counter to the “comeback” theory in one shining example… Kohls.

Despite our City and County leaders’ best effort, we couldn’t bring a company from 10 miles away to invest in Downtown Milwaukee. If we can’t get one of our own Southeast Wisconsin companies to buy in to the virtues of Milwaukee and move its headquarters down Fond du Lac Avenue, how can we expect to lure companies over state lines?

We are lead to believe that the City and County offered a generous welcome wagon to Kohls. It’s funny, when you like the politicians making the offer it’s “incentives” but when you don’t it’s “corporate welfare,” but that’s the topic of another blog.

The offer was meant to entice Kohls to build its new headquarters on two plots in the Park East. We don’t know how much or in what form the offer took, since officials won’t tell us. They insist, however, that it was a good deal.

Another analogy if you will. Your brother says he’ll come by your place for a visit any time, but he’d never actually buy a house in your neighborhood.

Like I said before… I love it here. I love us. I want us to succeed. I see great things happening, but hardly enough to declare some epic comeback is afoot. If we desire to be truly great we must aspire to and achieve great things… not settle for being less bad than we were 5 years ago.   

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