County opts against paying regional economic group in 2015
But Milwaukee 7 still partnering with Ozaukee County officials

By Dave Fidlin - News Graphic Correspondent

Nov. 18, 2014

PORT WASHINGTON — Ozaukee County’s government will not be contributing financially to a seven-county economic development organization, heading into 2015. But county supervisors say their support toward growing the local economy is as strong as ever.

Amid deliberations over next year’s budget, Ozaukee County Board members recently jostled back and forth about the merits of contributing financially to Milwaukee 7, a nearly decade-old regional organization focused on economic development.

As its name suggests, Milwaukee 7 represents Milwaukee County and the six surrounding counties: Kenosha, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha. Since its inception, Milwaukee 7 has undertaken a number of initiatives, including talent attraction and retention activities, workforce development and public-private partnerships.

“As we took a temperature of the board … it became clear there was not widespread support”.

— Dan Becker Ozaukee County Board supervisor on the board members’ interest in paying the $10,000 dues for Milwaukee 7 membership

When it was founded in 2005, the Ozaukee County Board contributed financially to Milwaukee 7. In the ensuing years, the amount was whittled down until it completely evaporated.

In an attempt at reversing course, Supervisor Dan Becker last month suggested the county contribute $10,000 toward Milwaukee 7 in 2015. Becker presented the board with a resolution in support of the financial allocation, but he eventually rescinded it before a formal vote was taken.

“As we took a temperature of the board … it became clear there was not widespread support,” Becker said of the funding proposal. “I think it’s good to have everybody behind an initiative such as this.”

Recounting the recent deliberations, Becker said there was a contingent of the board that did not believe the county was getting enough of a return on its investment through the Milwaukee 7 partnership.

Efforts to reach a representative at Milwaukee 7 for comment on the county board’s recent decision were unsuccessful by the News Graphic’s deadline.

According to its website, Milwaukee 7 operates from income through a variety of sources – local and county dollars being one of many contributions. Other funding buckets have included federal and state dollars, grants and proceeds from tax incremental financing districts.

While Ozaukee County itself has not been contributing to Milwaukee 7 in recent years, several local public and private leaders do serve on the organization’s board. Among them: Thomas Meaux, county administrator; Jennifer Rothstein, supervisor; Kathleen Schilling, executive director of Ozaukee Economic Development and Carol Schneider, CEO of Seek Inc.

County Board Chairman Lee Schlenvogt said he and his elected colleagues will revisit financial contributions toward Milwaukee 7 as the year progresses.

“We are all strong believers in economic development,” Schlenvogt said. “But this is something we’re going to continue to review. We’d like to set some kinds of goals (for Milwaukee 7), but we haven’t quite decided what they should be. This is something we’re going to talk about more after the first of the year.”

Becker said he envisions the actual funding debate being revisited in the middle of 2015. From his vantage point, he said he would like to receive periodic updates from a Milwaukee 7 staff member at county board meetings.

“We want to see some results,” Becker said. “It would be nice to receive some updates and see how they are progressing in Ozaukee County.”

While the county board continues to maintain a moratorium on funding Milwaukee 7, Becker said they are providing muscle to Milwaukee 7’s local counterpart, Ozaukee Economic Development.

Becker said he and his colleagues recently issued a challenge to OED. If the organization can raise $15,000 toward programs aimed at spurring economic development, the county board will match those funds.

Becker himself also has joined OED’s board of directors.