Mayors: Cooperation key to region’s growth, success
Reilly, Barrett speakers at business alliance public officials event

By Cara Spoto - Freeman Staff

Jan. 30, 2018

Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett talk regionalism and economic development Friday morning as part of a Waukesha County Business Alliance “One-on-One with Public Officials” event.

PEWAUKEE — The need for a more regional approach to economic development in southeastern Wisconsin emerged as the central theme of a Waukesha County Business Alliance discussion Friday morning with Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Fresh from the inking of a historic water deal, the mayors teamed up to discuss local and regional goals with business leaders as part of a monthly “One-on-One with Public Officials” event that took place at the offices of VJS Construction Services in Pewaukee.

The company sponsored the event, along with Quad/Graphics, HNTB Corporation, MLG Capital LLC and Ruekert & Mielke, Inc.


Kicking off the discussion, Barrett said that the coming together of the mayors, whose cities have historically been at odds, was in and of itself something to celebrate.

“I think when you talk about the region there are many things that are very, very entrenched, and I used joke to prior to my becoming mayor (in 2004) that the history of mayors in Milwaukee... was that they didn’t recognize the right of Waukesha to exist, that there was a lot of bad blood. And in some regards, that went both ways,” Barrett said.

As a Congressman in the 1990s where he represented parts of Milwaukee as well as some of its suburbs, he realized that the region never really benefited from such animosity.

Today, he said, it is more important than ever that the communities work together as the region competes with other metropolitan regions seeking to attract businesses and residents.

“The question is: how do you act as advocate for the people who hired you, but at the same time have a bigger picture?” he said.

Reilly agreed, noting the deal Waukesha recently reached to buy Lake Michigan Water from Milwaukee was a perfect example of how leaders can negotiate, and even disagree on facts, without letting emotions muddy the waters.

“The most important issue for Waukesha is our water issue. It’s why I ran for mayor in 2014, and it’s why I am running again, to hopefully complete the project,” Reilly said. “My goal has always been to provide Waukesha with clean, sustainable drinking water.

Regionalism was also important, Reilly said, as both cities struggle to deal with infrastructure costs, limited revenues, and growing housing and transportation needs.

Attracting workers, businesses

Taking questions from Business Alliance members, the mayors talked about ways to help the regional economy grow and make the Milwaukee area a more attractive place to live and work.

Touching on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s efforts to draw workers and businesses through its new “Think.Make.Happen” campaign, one alliance member asked what role the cities can play in making the effort successful.

Reilly said his role was to help make Waukesha as inviting to those workers and businesses as it can be.

“The younger people are moving to where they want to live, not where the jobs are, and then they make the jobs for themselves,” Reilly said.

The same is true for Milwaukee, Barrett said.

“Part of our job is a sales job,” he said.

When asked what they would tout as benefits to would-be business and workers, Reilly said good schools, as well as the sort of things that make Waukesha a great place to be, such as its downtown.

Barrett noted that while his sales pitch would be different for different business or groups, the city’s downtown resurgence is a big selling point.

Acknowledging ongoing struggles with crime, segregation and poverty in segments of the city, Barrett said he nevertheless believes the city is riding a “crest of positive momentum,” one that Reilly noted earlier is something good for the entire region.

“The downtown renaissance in Milwaukee, for me, is just phenomenal,” Reilly said. “Our goal is to bring people into the region. We are not doing well with our population. If we want to be a vibrant economy, we need to draw people to southeastern Wisconsin, and any community that is doing that right is helping all the communities.”