A number of area business leaders are
beginning to openly express their frustration with the latest attempt to
promote the region, the "Milwaukee 7." Despite millions of
dollars in funding, itís hard to see what M7 has done. This shouldnít
be a surprise. M7 is an attempt to market southeastern Wisconsin to
national business decision-makers. We donít need marketing. We need to
fix our business climate.
The M7, a consortium of government officials and private groups, is a
flawed concept. Since the group includes government, it cannot address
the fact that government policies are the problem. We have enough inane
cheerleading going on. What the Milwaukee region needs is changes in
public policy. We are driving businesses out and telling new ones to
stay away by raising taxes to obscene levels, regulating businesses to
death, imposing impossible environmental restrictions and levying some
of the nationís highest health care costs. Until those things are
fixed, the business climate is not going to improve.
One of the inane cheerleaders, the publisher of a flimsy collection
of press releases called the Small Business Times, recently attacked
corporate leaders for their negativism. He even threw in a few shots at
me (surprise, surprise). He said we all need to be more positive. Being
"positive" isnít going to lower health care costs or
property and income taxes. Nor will it drive out the environmental
extremists who donít want us to build power plants. It wonít neuter
the reflexively anti-business/pro-tax agenda of the Milwaukee Journal
nor will it get Jim Doyle to stop trying to tax everything he can find.
These are the problems. Fighting them isnít being
"negative." It is a sincere attempt to save the regionís
MillerCoors is almost certain to shun Milwaukee, probably locating
its corporate headquarters in Dallas. The American Bowling Congress just
announced itís leaving. Taxes are a huge factor in both decisions. The
people who make up the "Milwaukee 7" are largely the same ones
who are driving up taxes and driving away business. More groups, Web
sites and marketing campaigns are not the answer nor is mindless
boosterism from fake newspapers that only pretend to cover business and
economic news. Whatís needed are changes in public policy aimed at
welcoming and encouraging businesses, not taxing and harassing them.
* * *
The media is a big part of the problem. Itís to be expected that a
big city daily paper would be populated by liberals pushing a big-tax
anti-business agenda. But media in the outlying parts of the region,
like this paper, ought to be a voice of economic reason. Likewise, the
media outlets specifically aimed at the business community ought to lead
the fight against the Doyle/Barrett/WEAC/environmental cabal that is
overtly hostile to economic progress and biased toward spending
Instead, the weekly Business Journal is run by sport coat liberals,
its faux competitor (Small Business Times) is a "see no evil"
lightweight and the only business leader given a media forum (John
Torinus) is a former newspaper guy overtly hostile to tax-cutting
Who then speaks for the over-taxed, over-regulated, over-nagged
business owners? Until that question is addressed, look for more jobs to
follow the Bowling Congress and Miller out of here.
* * *
This column should not be read solely as gloom and doom. There are
many economic success stories in southeastern Wisconsin. The Waukesha
and Washington County economies remain strong. Milwaukee-based companies
like Manpower, Bucyrus, Ladish, Rockwell Automation and Joy Global are
thriving. Privately held firms like S.C. Johnson and Northwestern Mutual
are doing very well and Quad/Graphics is hanging in there. The stock of
Kohlís may be slumping but the companyís overall long term growth
rate is phenomenal. Fiserv and Metavante are dominating the growing
financial security industry.
Other firms with significant operations here, like CNH Global and
General Electric, are doing very well. The health care giants are on a
big run as are the stateís insurance companies. Even businesses in a
down cycle like the banks arenít going anywhere.
What isnít happening much is new investment from outside the area.
Software and technology businesses donít even think about Milwaukee.
Our biotech and drug industry donít exist. These firms are the job
producers of the future. There is a reason they show little interest in
the state as a whole or the region in particular. No amount of slick ad
campaigns, flashy Web sites or cheerleading columns is going to change
* * *
Iíd normally use this space to offer my reaction to the proposals
Governor Doyle offered in his State of the State address last week. But
since Doyle didnít propose anything, I have nothing to react to. When
the governor comes up with something, I suspect Iíll have something to
(Mark Belling is the host of a daily WISN radio talk show. His
column runs Wednesdays in The Freeman.)