Milwaukee Gateway Aerotropolis Corporation demonstrates a great example of inter-governmental and government-business cooperation. It also provides an important example of how government can help to advance job creation.
The Airport Gateway Business Association, the City of Milwaukee and seven other municipalities, Milwaukee County, General Mitchell International Airport and The Port of Milwaukee are key stakeholders and founders of Gateway to Milwaukee. Their shared aim is create a vibrant economy centered around the Milwaukee airport and the other transportation modes to which it connects. These include Interstate Highway 94, two Class 1 railroad lines, the airport Amtrack station and the Milwaukee Port.
University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School Professor John Kasarda works to advance these “aerotropolis” and there are notable examples around the globe. “Airports are now effectively a part of global production systems,” Kasarda says, “and without that connectivity, you’re out of the game.”
Writing about the aerotropolis concept in 2006, Fast Company author Greg Lindsay commented, “The aerotropolis represents the logic of globalization made flesh in the form of cities.” Economic growth has always occurred at important transportation junctions. Chicago grew out of the intersection of road, water and rail transit.
Today, airports are those vital junctions, as so much of global trade is supported with air transit. “40% of the total economic value of all goods produced in the world, barely comprising 1% of the total weight, is shipped by air (and that goes for more than 50% of total U.S. exports, which are valued at $554 billion),” the Fast Company article states.
Any international business traveler will tell you that Dubai, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai and other cities have already figured out the importance of a modern air transport system linked to other transportation modes. Memphis, Tennessee (home to FedEx) and Dallas-Fort Worth have also built stellar economic growth by leveraging air transportation.
Tom Rave, who spent his career as a Wisconsin banker, serves as The Gateway’s Executive Director. He’s leading the effort to make the Gateway the lowest-cost, efficient, multi-modal transportation hub in the Midwest. With O’Hare International Airport both congested and landlocked, Milwaukee has more than a fighting chance.
The passenger count at Mitchell Airport is growing at a 30% rate, the highest in the U.S. and 4th highest in the world. The Milwaukee Port, Chicago to Milwaukee train and expanded I-94 highway are vital additional assets for realizing this advantage. Kasarda was “extremely surprised and impressed” in seeing all the Milwaukee area offers plus its redevelopment according to Rave.
Close cooperation between units of government was necessary to create Milwaukee Gateway Aerotropolis Corporation. Now government officials must move even more into a service-orientation, according to Rave. “In addition to offering four transportation networks and eight great communities, businesses locating here need to know that we have business’ backs in making sure their people and shipments into and out of Milwaukee arrive and leave on time and on budget. Over time, efficiency and service will attract businesses and their job growth.”
Listening to Rave I could not help but wonder whether our units of government are defined too narrowly, especially as it relates to Dane County – City of Madison and Milwaukee County – City of Milwaukee. Traveling globally, my fiancé Nick and I see stellar transportation systems in countries where a top-down government approach builds stellar infrastructure solutions. In the US, federal-state-county-city and town leaders must align before any break-through happens. The process is slow and parochial interests often preclude needed change.
The process disadvantage matters. We are in a battle between global regions/cities for where the great jobs of tomorrow will locate. According to Milwaukee Biz Times “Dispatches from China” columnist Einar Tangen, China aims to grow biotech, new-generation IT, high-end equipment manufacturing, advanced materials, alternative-fuel cars and energy saving and environmental protection from 8% to 15% of its GDP in the next five years. If the past is a predictor of the future, China’s government will provide incentives and capital to achieve this aim and Chinese business leaders will copy and improve upon US technology. With China’s GDP growing magnitudes faster than the US, major share gains are headed China’s way if its goals are achieved.
The great Gateway effort is one vital part of building a winning region. Tom Still and the Wisconsin Technology Council call the larger region of which Milwaukee is a part the IQ Corridor. It also includes Chicago, the Twin Cities and Madison and is named for the terrific universities and research and innovation driven companies in this region.
What other advantages can Wisconsin’s governmental units help to build so that we can protect and grow our share of jobs in these attractive, growing industries? Seen from the Milwaukee Aerotropolis’ lens, a high-speed federally funded train connecting Milwaukee to the Twin Cities through Madison makes a lot of economic sense for Wisconsin.