Leaders in Southeast Wisconsin said their communities are excited for the opportunity for increased growth and economic development, including Foxconn, which broke ground this summer.
But with such opportunities comes the need to collaborate with local governments, educational institutions and others they said during a panel discussion Thursday night at Carthage College’s Todd Wehr Center.
Jenny Trick, Racine County Economic Development Corp.’s executive director, said that a year ago, they found out it was selected as the site for Foxconn Technology Group’s $10 billion manufacturing plant. She said people are more excited than in in the recent past as Racine County has struggled with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
“When you recruit a company that basically brings a whole new industry into a county, a region, a state, I think the energy is much more positive,” she said.
The panel, moderated by Greg Barron, senior lecturer for management and marketing at the college, also included Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, former Maine Governor John Baldacci, and Carthage President John Swallow.
The panel discussion was the final installment in a series of activities centered on Baldacci’s visit.
A former U.S. Congressman and governor, Baldacci, a senior advisor for economic development and government relations at Pierce Atwood LLP law firm in Portland, Maine, was the special guest presenter whose visit was sponsored through the Sam and Gene Johnson Endowed Distinguished Visiting Professorship and the Council of Independent Colleges’ Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows program.
Antaramian said Kenosha continues to draw manufacturers to the area, but is looking at what it can do to attract more research and development.
“We try to focus a lot on smaller companies ... to come here to grow and that’s what we want to see happen,” he said.
While economic development, local government, colleges and universities have strived to align their priorities in establishing ways to keep local talent in the area, they also must think of other ways to keep young people here, according to Antaramian.
“They want their kids to stay here,” he said, adding there is a push to look at bringing more technology companies here. He said, however, there also must be a cultural basis to draw them.
“I think that becomes a very, very critical aspect,” he said.
Barrett said, while Racine and Kenosha are benefiting from Foxconn and companies that have come from Illinois to establish businesses, Milwaukee is also experiencing its own economic revival, including Komatsu, which will be building a $285 million headquarters in the city. However, Milwaukee struggles with high unemployment, poverty and difficult access to reliable transportation for a large minority populations including African Americans and Hispanics.
“The problem is we need to get the jobs where people are living,” he said.
Swallow said colleges and universities can be a part of the solution when it comes to looking at what training is needed for the jobs that need to be filled. In the area, government, industry and higher education are aligned in their goals to help give companies what they need.
Balducci said it takes a collaborative effort with people moving forward to ensure these things happen. He said he was impressed with what the communities have done to encourage economic development, and encouraged individual motivation, whether it be giving youths a chance to learn chess to the opportunities for higher education.