Finding innovative ways to solve challenges
Brookfield economic development coordinator tackles changes

By Chris Bennett - Special to The Freeman

August 6, 2017

BROOKFIELD - Todd Willis and his 10-year-old son are enjoying a wonderful summer.

Willis is the city of Brookfield’s new Economic Development Coordinator. He took the position in November of last year after serving the city as a Community Development intern from October of 2015 to November of 2016.

Enough chatter, for a moment, about titles and positions.

Willis’ son is baseball crazy, and the Milwaukee Brewers are enjoying a banner campaign two-thirds through this long season. Willis said can, probably, easily name every man on the Brewers’ 25-man roster.

And later this summer, father and son are joining other family members for a road trip to Burlington, Vt., to catch a few games of the Vermont Lake Monsters. The Lake Monsters are the short-season, Class A-ball affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.

Between work, baseball and being a dad, Willis is clearly a busy man who is enjoying his position in Brookfield.

“Brookfield really does have a great community, and a great sense of place,” Willis said. “It kind of sells itself.”

The city of Brookfield’s status as one of the Wisconsin’s economic titans is well-established. The city of Brookfield boasts a population of roughly 38,000, and is the 18th-largest city in Wisconsin.

In terms of equalized value, though, Brookfield is third - behind only Milwaukee and Madison.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, equalized value is the estimated value of all taxable real and personal property in each taxation district, by class of property, as of January 1.

Willis said a big portion of his job involves being a go-between for government officials and would-be developers on the issues of locating a business, development and the accompanying financing.

“A big part of my job is basically being a mediator between city government and the business community,” Willis said. “I get a lot of questions regarding permits, or what do I need to do to find space, or redo this space.”

Upon receiving a request from an interested party, Willis starts working within City Hall to streamline the process of getting answers to questions, all in an effort to keep development moving. Willis also works with state and federal officials on issues related to economic development.

In his short time in Brookfield, Willis said he’s been involved with the effort to bring a conference center and new hotel to Brookfield Square, and also with updating the Bishop Woods neighborhood plan.

According to numerous published reports, Brookfield Square might soon host a conference center and hotel. The site of the former Sears Auto Center, which closed earlier this year, might be redeveloped as a movie theater and entertainment complex.

Bishop Woods is in a slight state of flux after longtime resident Bader Rutter, a business marketing agency, relocated to downtown Milwaukee. Other properties in the development have changed hands in recent months.

Willis said he started working on plans for Bishop’s Woods while an intern.

“There are challenges,” Willis said. “That’s one of the things I like - coming up with innovative ways to solve the challenges posed to me.”

Willis is a believer in municipal government, and his background and education are proof. Hopefully, he is able to answer any and all challenges of his new position, and continue to drive Brookfield as part of the thriving, economic engine that is Waukesha County.

“I’ve always enjoyed economic development, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Willis said. “My education background is a master’s in public administration, and this is certainly an arm of that. It’s kind of an uncharted route of getting to economic development.”