Brian Kelsey linked to an article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on one of Milwaukee’s chief economic growth strategies: fostering the development of industry clusters. The water cluster in the M-7 region is perhaps the most well-known at this point, but there are others — food, medical technology, innovation, financial services, the creative economy, etc.
Each has made strides in the last two to three years.
“The water cluster probably has the most traction – the longest run time, great leadership, defined mission, and great publicity in the local, national and international markets,” [the Milwaukee 7 economic development consortium’s Pat] O’Brien said.
Manufacturing, however, has enticed the greatest number of other companies to create jobs in the region, usually with packages of tax incentives and state aid, O’Brien said.
Merely identifying a cluster never guarantees that a region will benefit. One effort that fizzled a decade ago involved the preponderance of commercial printers in metro Milwaukee – companies that print magazines, catalogs and books. It wasn’t for lack of raw numbers. The national trade journal Printing Impressions named Wisconsin the “Printing Capital of the USA.”
But printing no longer appears on anyone’s cluster list in an age when e-readers and tablets have thrown the industry into a state of flux.
“Establishing other clusters took a higher priority,” O’Brien said. To successfully coax growth and investment in a sector, it’s critical to have engaged business leadership and a defined set of objectives, he said.
EMSI worked alongside regional planners in Milwaukee near the start of this project to identify the top in-demand workforce competencies needed for the targeted industry groups that M-7 had chosen. You can read more about the project in this case study (or see the full report).
Linda Fowler, founder of Regionerate and an EMSI partner on the Milwaukee project and others, talked about the unique steps Milwaukee is taking to develop its water cluster in this EMSI Q&A:
I think a good example [of knowledge spillover] is Milwaukee, where they’ve formed a water cluster that is essentially bringing people together to benefit creating this hub for freshwater science. The way they’ve done that is they’ve looked at how they can integrate the needs of industry back into the K-12 system.
In the postsecondary system they’re looking at forming an advanced technology education center, a community college for freshwater science. They have a new grad program they set up. So they’re getting to look at all the different ways to bring stakeholders together to support this initiative. And I think the work that EMSI and Regionerate did in that region was just to help them take that to the next level. They were already beginning to focus on the integration of education and economic development and workforce development toward this industry cluster around water.
Read more about EMSI Consulting projects, including others similar to the M7 competency study.