Gov. Scott Walker endorses Milwaukee-Chicago metroplex initiative [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 27--CHICAGO -- A nascent movement to take the first baby steps to unite the metro-area economies of Milwaukee, Chicago and Gary, Ind., into a three-state economic bloc gathered rhetorical traction Friday.
"We should work together," said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at a daylong economic symposium, called a "Summit on Regional Competitiveness," hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
Shared Midwestern industries such as advanced manufacturing, agriculture, food processing, water technology and clean energy are some of the most obvious opportunities to reach across state lines and look at common industrial clusters, Walker said.
Those industries all have export potential in global markets, said Walker, addressing the 500 attendees at the Chicago Fed.
The notion of cross-border cooperation is little more than a year old but often looks like an uphill effort. It follows decades of entrenched Wisconsin-Illinois division over transportation policy and competition to poach employers in a cross-border rivalry that often mirrors the Packers and Bears in its intensity.
Following prior summits in Milwaukee and Chicago last year, a group of adherents created the Tri-State Alliance for Regional Development. The group argues that a three-city, 21-county metroplex will have the scale and firepower to create a level of global competitiveness on a par with other mega-metros such as London, New York, Shanghai or Tokyo.
The idea of a Milwaukee-Chicago metroplex might be in its infancy but has influential supporters. It began with a 2012 study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a global economic think tank based in Paris, which studied the "extreme fragmentation" in the Chicago-Milwaukee region.
The OECD found a welter of inefficiencies, duplication and jurisdictional rivalries -- with Wisconsinites proudly poaching Illinois companies and balking at joint transportation policies -- all of which undermine competitiveness in the broader metroplex.
The OECD drew up the blueprint for the alliance, which is based out of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. Its adherents hope to become a major voice in the Midwestern economic development debate.
The governors of all three states attended the conference, as well as university officials and economic development officials from the tri-state area. But Walker might seem to be an unusual advocate for regional cooperation after his administration became associated with efforts to goad employers to leave Illinois after it spiraled into a post-recession fiscal crisis that caused taxes to rise abruptly.
Quizzed on Friday by Chicago news organizations about poaching, however, Walker denied it was any sort of cross-border strategy.
He noted that Wisconsin welcomes companies that want to expand -- and "not to take an employer that's already planted somewhere and moving them." Walker cited recent examples like Kenall Manufacturing of Gurnee, Ill., and Hanna Cylinders of Libertyville, Ill. Both announced expansions this year in Kenosha.
"Those were all companies looking to grow," Walker said.
The example of potential cooperation that Walker cited with the greatest frequency Friday was water technology, touting an effort that began six years ago when metro Milwaukee began an effort to organize its stable of 150 water engineering companies.
The Water Council, a Milwaukee-based trade group, already has members from Illinois, Walker said. "The Water Council is a good example. It doesn't stop at the state line," he said.
The next step for the Water Council is to find new members in Indiana, said Dean Amhaus, chief executive of the Water Council, speaking at one of the panel discussions.
Walker said proximity to Chicago is an advantage when he travels in China and India.
"There are 12 or 15 megacities in the world," and greater Chicago is one of them, and Milwaukee's location in Chicago's halo gives the Brew City recognition, Walker said.
"Anywhere else I go around the world, people understand where Chicago is," Walker said, "and so it's a compelling point for us."
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