Friday, January 19, 2018

Milwaukee keeps grabbing more out-of-towners. Why can't they keep that money?

Mary Sussman in Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express noted something has been happening in the state’s largest city in recent years, and despite the themes that are pounded into the heads of suburban and rural dupes every day from WisGOP’s paid spokespeople on AM radio, it’s something that adds a lot of value to Wisconsin’s economy.

The piece is fitting titled “How Milwaukee Became a Midwest Mecca for Tourism and Conventions.”
Except at peak times, Milwaukeeans hardly realize that that they are sharing their city with millions of tourists who outnumber them 10 to one. In 2016, 23 million tourists made their way to the Milwaukee area, according to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. Milwaukee has become a new destination city.

For example, in October 2017, Milwaukee made two Travel + Leisure lists, which rated it 10th among 20 cities as one of America’s Friendliest Cities, and sixth among 20 cities as one of the Most Underrated Cities. In the same time frame, AARP The Magazine featured Milwaukee as a “Heartland Getaway” city. According to VISIT Milwaukee, more than 900 articles were published in 2017 touting the city’s attractions and ambience. “Rumor has it the Bronze Fonz, just south of Wells St. Downtown, is the most photographed sight in Milwaukee,” according to a Lonely Planet article.

Tourism revenues have increased by more than 3% for each of the past five years. In 2016, Milwaukee tourism had an economic impact of more than $5 billion, accounting for about ¼ of total tourism revenues for Wisconsin. Milwaukee-area tourism supported more than 50,000 full-time jobs and generated $3.5 million in taxes. Milwaukee tourism supports more jobs than the top-three regional employers—Aurora Healthcare, Ascension Wisconsin and Froedtert Health—combined.

Later in the article, Sussman talks to VISIT Milwaukee’s VP of sales, Marco Bloemendaal. He says that the decision by several Milwaukee corporations over the last 10 years to leave the suburbs for downtown has had a positive effect on both the tourist and residential sectors of the city’s economy.
“All of a sudden, it’s very popular to have headquarters Downtown,” Bloemendaal says. He says the presence of more Downtown businesses attracts business visitors and also brings a young, vibrant workforce that wants to live there. Theresa Nemetz, owner of Milwaukee Food & City Tours, is doing a booming business offering walking and bus tours to more than 15,000 people annually, about half of whom are out-of-towners. She began her business 10 years ago as a hobby, offering a walking tour on Brady Street. Now, during the busy summer season, Milwaukee Food & City Tours offers more than 40 tours a day.

Nemetz is frequently hired by local businesses who want to showcase the city to potential employees. “When they’re here and on the tour, they’re amazed,” she says. “They had no idea. Milwaukee is not on their radar when they are asked to come to town for an interview. But by the time they leave, they are asking great questions about transportation, the cost of rent, school districts and the lakefront. They’re really impressed with Milwaukee. Half of them want to live Downtown, and half want to live in the suburbs.”
Huh, you mean that Milwaukee isn’t the crime-ridden shithole that Scott Walker and other suburba-GOPs portray it as? You don’t say!

This reiterates the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's findings that show Milwaukee County is by far the largest destination of tourist dollars in the state. So if Milwaukee is attracting this extra economic activity, and people are encouraged to live there after they are exposed to the city, then I have a simple question. Why don’t we allow the state’s largest tourism destination to keep more of the revenues it generates?

And the low rent costs, lakefront and schools that Nemetz mentions as positives for potential employees are the same things WEDC wants to spend taxpayer dollars on to attract out-of-staters. But they’re also many of the same things Scott Walker’s and WisGOP’s regressive, anti-transit and anti-environmental policies are trying to make worse. Since Republicans only care about grabbing more power and money for themselves, using the majority-minority city of Milwaukee as a target to stir up suburban and outstate rubes for political advantage, their “divide and denigtrate” strategy with Milwaukee will continue as long the GOP runs the state.

Maybe instead, we need a new administration at the Capitol that realizes what a boon Milwaukee’s tourism and amenities are and will talk up the town to encourage even more tourism and talent attraction to SE Wisconsin It’s well documented that the fiscal handcuffs the state imposes on the City of Milwaukee is something that almost any other major city doesn’t have to deal with, and it keeps the city from investing in infrastructure, police, and quality of life that could make Milwaukee even more attractive.

Taking off those handcuffs seems to be a win-win that would increase Milwaukee’s chances to build upon the success it is already seeing, and have many of those benefits help people in parts of the city that the tourists usually don’t see. And since the state can’t succeed past a certain level if its largest metro area isn’t successful, then it’s obvious that Wisconsin can’t be great until we get people in charge that want to see Milwaukee continue to be an attraction for tourists and residents.


  1. To be fair, Milwaukee was a crime-ridden shithole when Walker was Milwaukee County Executive and was in charge.

    1. Because Walker defunded the daylights out of any county services that might lift people out of poverty. Then the cynical fool would stand around and say "See, it's not worth it to invest in these things."

      I'll also remind you that Walker ignored the will of County voters in 2008 to have a 1% sales tax designated for transit, parks and other cultural needs. Jim Doyle and the Dems should have told Scotty to shove it up his backside, but instead they agreed not to put anything in. And so the County and City continues to have issues meeting the extra needs that urban areas have as a result of the extra tourism and commuters that go into the city without paying the property taxes that go to city/county services.