August 4, 2014
Economic Development in Milwaukee, WI
By Rick Mattoon
Milwaukee is the focus of this third blog examining the economic structure and development plans of the five largest cities in the Seventh Federal Reserve District. (For a complete profile of all five cities see, Industrial clusters and economic development in the Seventh District’s largest cities.) Milwaukee grew up as a manufacturing city and was famed for its beer industry. Today manufacturing still plays an important role, but the city has added an array of financial and professional services firms and is targeting niche industries, such as freshwater management and industrial controls, to help drive future growth. Milwaukee also has an important difference from other large cities in the District in the sense that it is geographically close to Chicago. Chicago’s considerable economic shadow presents both advantages and disadvantages for Milwaukee. On the one hand, Chicago provides a huge market for Milwaukee’s products. On the other hand, Chicago’s size and influence pulls regional assets, including skilled workers, away from Milwaukee. However, as we will see from the economic development plan, Milwaukee is focused on industries that are either absent in Chicago or might compliment the greater bi-state regional economy.
Milwaukee's Industry Structure
Table 1 shows the Milwaukee MSA’s employment and industry concentration levels (also known as location quotients or LQs) relative to the US. Milwaukee has a diverse economic base, with above-average shares of employment and industry concentrations across an array of industries.
Economic Development Strategy in Milwaukee
The Milwaukee 7 Regional Economic Development Partnership released a strategy plan in November 2013. The plan was developed over 18 months and was based on the work of five cross-sector working groups. The plan recognizes that Milwaukee’s economy has been lagging that of the nation for the past decade and is in a state of transition, with growth favoring knowledge-intensive products, services, and processes over traditional manufacturing.
The plan identifies nine specific strategies aimed at improving regional productivity. These strategies are:
• become a leading innovator, producer, and exporter of products and services related to energy, power, and controls
• become a global hub for activity in water technology
• grow the food cluster by leveraging geographic, supply chain, and human capital advantages
• increase export capacity, particularly for small- and medium-sized firms
• align work force development with growth in high-potential clusters
• foster an innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem
• catalyze economic place-making (e.g., recast the economy from an image of traditional manufacturing to more technology-oriented manufacturing and services)
• modernize regional infrastructure
• enhance inter-jurisdictional cooperation and collaboration
Milwaukee’s strategy appears to be more targeted than most other cities’. The Milwaukee MSA has a diverse economic base, with LQs above 1.05 in five industries. Rather than focusing on broader categories, the plan looks at subsectors within large groups, such as energy and energy controls, water science and management, and food production. The other elements of the policy are designed to create economic conditions (through productivity policies) that would benefit almost any industry. These infrastructure and workforce policies seem designed to create a platform for growth for many types of firms.
Finally, as Figure 1 illustrates, Milwaukee’s job growth generally exceeded the region’s average heading into the Great Recession but underperformed the region during the early years of the recovery. Over the past two years, however, Milwaukee’s job growth has been on par with the region’s average.
See http://mke7.com/~/media/Documents/M7RegionalPlanExecSummary.ashx. (Return to text)
August 12, 2009
City-Suburban Population and the Housing Bust
Demographer William H. Frey calls to our attention a striking turnaround in population growth in the central cities of metropolitan areas. Since the 2005-06 peak of the housing construction boom in the United States, the growth rates of central cities have begun to gain ground on surrounding suburban areas. Beginning with 2005 and ending with population estimates reported by the Census Bureau for mid-year 2008, Frey illustrates a convergent city-suburb trend for U.S. metropolitan areas having a population over one million. These trends hold for all four major U.S. regions—North, Midwest, South, and West. (The 12-state Midwest population performance is shown below).
Similarly, Frey reports that these gains “are not confined to the very largest American cities. Among the 75 cities with populations exceeding 200,000, 41 grew faster in 2007-08 than in the preceding year, and 54 grew faster than in 2004-05.” We show the population trends for such cities by region below. Once, again, we can see that the turnaround has taken place, on average, in all Census regions of the U.S.
Within the Seventh District states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin, growth has also tended to rebound in cities over 200,000 in population (below). For the year ending in the middle of 2008, six of seven cities exhibited positive population growth. However, the City of Detroit is an outstanding exception with an accelerated decline in the mid-year ending 2008.
On average, Seventh District cities shifted from zero or negative growth in 2005 to an annual growth rate of 0.5 percent for 2008. The largest swings in performance were registered by Des Moines, with a swing from minus 1.3 percent in 2004 to plus 1.2 percent in 2008, and Chicago, with a swing from minus 0.7 in 2005 to plus 0.7 for 2008.
Click to enlarge.
At this point in time, the reasons for this shift toward central cities remain open to speculation. But given the timing, there are strong reasons to believe that the housing bust lies behind much, if not most, of the reversal. A general rise in demand for housing, such as that which occurred earlier in this decade, exerted a magnified impact on the fringe of urban areas. Given the lower price of land on the fringe and the ease with which larger single family homes can be constructed there (rather than tear-downs closer in), both population and housing generally shifted towards the periphery. Construction jobs related to fringe development likely bolstered the trend, as some households followed job opportunities to the suburbs. And now we may be seeing a reversal of such trends as home demand and employment have fallen off.
William Frey also attributes the urban population resurgence to the nature of the urban economies, citing “broad economic diversity at a time when smaller cities … are vulnerable to economic shocks” and the “resiliency of large urban centers that are economically and demographically diverse.” There may be some wisdom in thinking that this is so. In pursuing economic development, central cities have been trying to attract and grow “Eds and Meds,” (education and health care). As measured by George Erickcek and Tim Bartik of the Upjohn Institute, health care and hospitals, along with colleges and universities have been a bulwark of the economic base of many cities. These sectors of the U.S. economy have tended to grow and expand consistently, and cities have benefited. From the 2000 Census, Bartik and Erickcek report that earnings derived from the education sector are, on average, 36 percent more concentrated in the principal cities of the nation’s 283 metropolitan areas. Health care earnings are 12 percent more concentrated.
Nonetheless, with the release of the next mid-year Census estimates (for 2009), it will be interesting to see if central cities are able to sustain their momentum of population growth in relation to suburban areas. Beginning with 2009, the influences of the sharp U.S. recession and related job declines may become important.  Favoring central city economies, the education and health care sectors are steady performers even in recessions. So too, many central cities no longer host manufacturing production, which tends to be hit particularly hard during recessions. However, in many cities other elements of the economic base are both concentrated and highly sensitive to economic downturns. Such sectors include professional and business services, law, tourism/business travel, and especially the financial sector, which has been buffeted by the recent financial crisis.
Little evidence is available so far concerning the differing impact of the two national recessions, 2001 and the current one, on city versus suburb. However, in a recent report by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, Elizabeth Kneebone and Emily Garr report on year-over-year unemployment rates for city versus suburbs in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. They find that “in contrast to the last recession,” when city unemployment rates rose more sharply versus their suburbs, “unemployment has increased at nearly equal rates in cities and suburbs.”  The table below excerpts the year-over-year rise in unemployment rates for cities and their suburbs for several Seventh District cities and their suburbs and for the four major regions of the United States.
Note: Thank you to Emily Engel and Matt Olson for assistance.
The difference in the gap between the two recessions is not large. Year over year changes in unemployment rates in cities rose by 1.9 percent in primary cities versus 1.4 percent in suburbs from May 2001 to May 2002. For May 2008 to May 2009, year-over-year rates rose by 3.9 and 3.7 percentage points, respectively, for cities and suburbs. However, city/suburb unemployment rate differences in level are wider currently than in the 2001-02 period.(Return to text)
September 24, 2008
Supply-side efforts at building skilled workforce
By Britton Lombardi, Associate Economist
Wage growth continues to grow more sharply for educated workers, but how can states and cities build their work force in this direction?
For one, a “grow your own” approach to enhancing the local supply of educated workers may be helpful. States tend to have some advantage in retaining individuals who grew up and went to college within the state. A study found that 54% of students that were both residents of the state and attended college in-state were working in the state 15 years later. The number falls to 35% if the student residents attended college in another state. The percentage drops to 11% for non-residents who attended college in the state. A recent policy report for the Milwaukee area suggests that a potential way for states to make use of this home state advantage would be to increase their high school graduation rate and better prepare their students for college. Even if these students do not attend college, the policy report notes that a rise in the high school graduation rate would raise average incomes and would help fill jobs being left open by retiring baby boomers. Nonetheless, states and cities will see the greatest returns to education if these high school graduates do obtain a college education and either stay in-state or return home after college.
How are states doing in "grow your own" initiatives? The chart below plots state college enrollment versus educational attainment of the workforce. The state’s college enrollment rate is weighted by the state’s average high school freshman graduation rate, which reflects a state's tendency to graduate its high school students. Therefore, the x-axis number is the interaction between the percentage of high school graduates that go to college and the percentage of students that completed all four years of high school. On the vertical axis, we measure educational attainment of the state's workforce as the weighted average of years of schooling per worker. The horizontal and vertical lines in the graph (in blue) are the U.S. averages.
The states positioned in the top right quadrant of the chart have an above average educational attainment per worker and are sending a higher proportion of students to college than the U.S. average. Four of the five Seventh District states (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin) reside in this quadrant. Although Indiana (bottom right quadrant) has lower than average years of schooling, the state seems successful in preparing and sending its students to college as seen from its above average enrollment rate. It appears as though the District states, which tend to be high-income states, have been successful in educating their own and sending them to college. There is some slippage in this measurement since a large and variable share of those who enroll in college go on to complete their degree.
Educating a state’s own individuals does not guarantee the young professionals’ retention or return to the state after college. Therefore, states should also focus on the migration of these young professionals into and out of their state, especially as the young, college-educated professional cohort is the most mobile of any cohort in the U.S. A special Census Report calculated that 75% of young and single and 72% of young and married college-educated professionals between the ages of 25 and 39 relocated between 1995 and 2000. Therefore, a part of a state’s future economic success is tied to attracting these young professionals from other states. In the next chart, states are plotted based on their 3 year average net migration rate of young professionals versus the state’s weighted average years of schooling. For the Seventh District, Illinois and Wisconsin (top right quadrant) have average years of schooling above that of the U.S. average and are importers of young educated professionals as seen through their positive net migration rates. Iowa, Michigan, (top left quadrant) and Indiana (bottom left) have negative net migration rates. These states seem to be exporters of young college-educated professionals.
Click to enlarge.
For the two charts above, the educational attainment of the existing work force was put on the vertical axis for two reasons. The educational attainment level reflects the past success of the state’s educational system in producing an educated work force. In addition, educational attainment will vary with the industry mix of the state economies since industries tend to have varying workforce skill demands. In turn, a state's industry mix is determined by a host of historical developments in the state’s development process. Indiana, for example, ranks among the top 3 states in manufacturing concentration, a sector which historically has not required a post-secondary education (though this is changing to some degree).
As states compete for these young professionals, they may need to offer unique opportunities to set themselves apart. From an economic development standpoint, cities can be an integral part of a state’s effort to increase their level of human capital since cities can be the gravitational force that brings young professionals to the state. Based on the table below, 17 of the 20 largest metropolitan areas had a positive in-migration of young well-educated professionals between 1995 and 2000, including two Seventh District metropolitan areas: Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Cities have the ability to attract young well-educated residents because they still offer powerful benefits to their inhabitants.Cities eliminate the distance between people and ideas by allowing ideas to be shared in both formal and informal settings, thereby increasing the opportunities for innovation. As such, cities have become centers of learning for young college-educated professionals just starting their careers. As studied by Ed Glaeser, professionals come to cities to take advantage of the knowledge externalities provided by interactions with other well-educated and successful individuals to enhance their own productivity. Glaeser found that workers tend to learn faster in cities and enjoy higher wage growth. The density of educated individuals living in a city creates informational spillovers, thick labor markets, and division of labor leading to specialization. Cities also reap the benefits of these individuals through their overall increased productivity and innovation.
Since cities can play an important role in regional economic development, the Milwaukee area policy report suggests a combination of two ways for cities to enhance their efforts to increase their pool of human capital through migration. First, the city should try to enhance the available job opportunities to young professionals that match their career and personal goals, as these individuals want to learn, network, and develop professionally. The report recommends that local businesses and civic organizations join forces to share resources and ideas to spur innovation and growth to create or improve jobs. Secondly, the American city has been transforming into a cultural and entertainment center. Young, college-educated professionals place special emphasis on amenities offered by a city. They expect high-quality and unique recreational opportunities such as restaurants, sporting events, live music, and nightlife venues. Therefore, cities might need to augment or diversify their recreational offerings to retain and attract these young professionals and provide a vibrant and livable city.
These days, states and cities must select from a wide and complex array of economic growth and development policies to find the strategies that are most appropriate for their situation and circumstances. Increasingly, they are favoring policies related to skilled work force availability.
May 14, 2007
Congestion tolling and privately operated roads—An idea whose time has come?
As our roads become increasingly congested, tolling and privatization of highways will be increasingly important lifelines, especially for large urban economies. The idea that motorists should pay tolls when driving on congested highways has long been advocated by economists. Conceptually, the “public” part of highway transportation is limited to the necessary intervention by public authorities to strategically acquire land for transportation and assure that all have access to travel freely in pursuit of commerce and recreation. However, the individual’s use of a roadway is often “private” in that it imposes congestion costs on other drivers (and some pollution as well). That is, in the motorist’s decision to use a road, the individual driver does not consider the congestion costs imposed on other drivers, thereby leading to the overuse of limited public roadway capacity. As a remedy, congestion tolls bring these individual driving decisions back into line with the greater public good. As the degree of road use (and congestion) varies by time of day and by day of the week, so should the amount of tolls vary accordingly.
After a long hiatus, interest in congestion tolling and privately operated roads has been climbing. European and Asian cities have made innovative headway in congestion fees. Both Stockholm and the City of London have implemented motor vehicle charges for the privilege of access to their central area; so has Singapore. Most recently, New York City has proposed to charge auto motorists $8 for the privilege of driving around Manhattan during peak traffic hours, with higher fees for those driving trucks.
Such actions are largely being spurred by rising congestion—which did not materialize overnight. The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) creates a “travel time index” that indicates the relative change in travel time from peak traffic to free-flow traffic. In a TTI report, Chicago in 1982 had a travel time index of about 1.2, meaning that given a 40-minute commute during a free-flow period, a person driving during peak hours would drive about 48 minutes (20% longer than it “should” take). This had climbed to 57 percent longer by 2003. In four major cities of the Seventh District, the added time to a commute during peak hours has increased from 14% in 1982 to 46% in 2003.
Click to enlarge.
Prior to the recent spate of toll programs, some highway authorities experimented with non-price-rationing measures such as “high occupancy vehicle” (HOV) lanes. To curtail congestion, HOV lanes set aside and dedicated freeway lanes to those vehicles, including cars and buses that have multiple occupants. Unfortunately, the results were sometimes disappointing in relieving congestion because HOV lanes merely attracted vehicles that already contained multiple occupants, without prompting a significant number of single-passenger motorists to carpool. So, too, the dedicated HOV lanes, while often uncongested, tended to push even greater congestion onto unrestricted lanes of the highway.
In response, the so-called “high occupancy toll” or HOT lanes have sometimes been called into action. HOT lanes are essentially HOV lanes that allow single-occupancy vehicles to motor in them—but for a price.
What has brought us to this state of affairs? Under the best of circumstances, motorists prefer to drive when and where they choose at no charge. But Americans’ penchant for driving has far outrun our financial ability to build roads. Lifestyle changes have tremendously raised the miles traveled in cars by U.S. households. Rising household incomes have lifted the desires for ever larger houses and lots, which are, in turn, often satisfied by homes located quite far from work sites. In addition, owing to the desire for residential privacy, homes are often built on dead-end or nonthrough streets, which has aggravated traffic on the major arterial roads surrounding residential communities.
Also, the rising trend of two-earner households makes it difficult for both earners to simultaneously live near their workplaces. More generally, there are extensive logistics (and driving miles) for today’s American family to coordinate their many trips for work, shopping, education, and recreation. By one estimate (DOT), highway travel miles climbed 23.4% from 1995 to 2005 in comparison to a population increase of 11.4%. To accommodate such rising traffic, road expansion has climbed by only 2.6% over the same period.
Many observers recognize that improved community land use planning could help curtail our appetite for driving. For example, allowing developers to build high-density apartment-type residences around existing commuter rail stations would allow at least one of a household's commuters to keep a car parked during the workday commute. So, too, stronger community planning efforts to assure that households of modest means can find affordable housing could help curtail the need for very long commutes. In the Chicago area, for example, policy think tanks such as Chicago Metropolis 2020 and the Metropolitan Planning Council spearhead efforts and programs that promote such community planning. Still, however sensible such planning may be, there has been very little of it implemented in many U.S. cities to date, and so, the increased commuting has often overtaken existing roadway capacity.
In past decades, state governments have often tried to keep pace with rising demands for driving and for far-flung housing by building more roads, including freeways. Several forces are now conspiring to slow such construction, especially tight fiscal conditions. The primary source of highway grant assistance to states, the Federal Highway Trust Fund, is replenished from the federal tax on gasoline. But the tax of 18.4 cents per gallon has not been raised since 1993 so that while revenues do rise somewhat along with vehicle miles traveled, they do not keep pace with rising gasoline prices and higher milage automobiles. Meanwhile, the revenue resources of state governments have also been besieged. Many state gasoline taxes are themselves imposed on a stagnant "cents per gallon" basis, and the voting public strongly resists the raising of gasoline taxes—especially as motor fuel prices have put increased pressure on household budgets over the past three years.
This leaves state government officials in a quandary, since the costs for competing public services, especially health care, education, and prisons, are concurrently squeezing state budgetary funds. State and local governments are hard pressed to even maintain existing highways, let alone fund expansions to curtail growing traffic congestion.
In addition to charging tolls, elected officials are also responding by increasingly turning to the private sector to assume responsibilities that include the financing, planning, marketing, construction, operation, and pricing of roads and bridges. Many combinations and arrangements of these functions are being attempted, from simple outsourcing of management and toll collection of highways to the all encompassing long-term leasing of highways as a publicly regulated private business entity.
Increased congestion and financial stress are not the only reasons behind the privatization and tolling of transportation infrastructure. New and improved technologies for payment of highway tolls have recently come to the fore. In contrast to the driver of yesteryear who had no option but to deal with the delay-plagued coin and cash toll booths, today’s driver can often make payment with little or no slowing down. Toll payments can be made online by transponders carried within vehicles or offline by remiote reading of license plates.
Seventh District initiatives lie at the recent epicenter of these movements in the U.S. In particular, the City of Chicago entered into a 99-year lease to a private consortium in 2005, turning over operational responsibility for and revenue returns from an 8-mile stretch of toll highway called the Chicago Skyway. By many accounts, the City benefited greatly from this transaction, while the public interest of drivers was also well served by enhanced operational efficiencies. The City of Chicago used income from the deal to retire existing debt on the Skyway infrastructure, and with the remaining revenue, it also set up a trust fund and purchased a sizable annuity that will help finance the city’s general operating funds well into the future. The driving public now enjoys rapid roadway maintenance and toll collection and eased congestion, albeit with prospective increases in toll fees.
Following Chicago’s lead, the Indiana Finance Authority leased its east–west toll turnpike for $3.8 billion in 2006. In large part, Indiana will use the proceeds to fund and maintain highway infrastructure throughout the state.
Meanwhile, in an effort to reduce rush-hour congestion around the Chicago area, the Illinois Tollway Authority introduced differential time-of-day pricing for only trucks in 2005. This program also doubled tolls for drivers in autos who choose to pay by cash at toll booths rather than by electronic transponder as they drive through rapidly. Revenues from these schemes are being used for repairs and expansion of the tollway system; they are also being used for the capital costs of new and reconfigured “open road” (or no-stop) toll collection system, which enables vehicles to pay tolls while traveling at highway speeds.
As the Illinois Toll Authority and other examples show, privatization and tolling of roads are separable actions. But in some ways they reinforce one another. Turning one’s operations over to private companies may provide one way to overcome the public’s resistance to congestion pricing, especially in contrast to government authorities who may be encumbered or distracted by non-transportation responsibilities or political constraints (i.e., the lack of political will to appropriately price use of the asset). Privatization potentially may also allow the operational authority to change pricing regimes and payment technologies more quickly in response to changing roadway conditions. Also, cost efficiencies and service quality are presumably improved when private agencies are watching the bottom line, though this has not always proved to be the case.
Still, the issues inherent in privatization schemes are contentious with respect to both purported operational efficiencies and sound fiscal management by governments. In awarding operational and pricing autonomy to private companies, it is not always clear whether the public interest is less than optimally served in favor of the profitability of the private operator. In particular, monopoly-type pricing by a private operator may be worse than publicly directed underpricing of congested facilities. Similarly, the data collected from the publicly rather than privately operated system may be more readily available for systemic public land use and transportation planning across entire metropolitan areas. For these reasons, as they enter into such partnership arrangements, elected officials must carefully craft contract terms and then follow up by monitoring the private companies during the terms of the contract.
Other concerns center on the behavior and actions of governments when they first enter into such agreements. Upfront revenue windfalls from the leasing of public infrastructure may cloud the judgment of governments and elected officials. Without proper disclosure and oversight of government by the public, the sale and leasing of transportation infrastructure to private buyers may pander to the near-sighted proclivities of elected officials. To plug current budget holes, or to plump up current spending for self-motivated reasons, public officials may unwisely commit large revenue streams immediately received from the sale or lease, while concurrently widening future budget deficits by eliminating public revenue streams. As always, the voting public and their representative think tanks must be on guard to oversee the terms of public–private partnership arrangements.
Elected officials must also represent and protect the public’s interests in matters of fairness and equity. Lower-income households are those who will be disproportionately burdened to pay for the use of less-congested roadways. In many ex-urban and suburban places, lower-income households must travel long distances to access their workplaces. Equity concerns are often compelling, since these workplace commutes are often lengthened by land use restrictions undertaken in high-income communities that limit the availability of affordable housing near work sites.
In response to equity concerns, some states and localities are adding capacity and subsidies to public transportation—both light rail and buses. When funding is short, as it usually is, governments often earmark part of highway toll revenues to such dedicated purposes.
However, for many households, public transportation is not an option. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, only 4.7 percent of workers currently use public transportation. The table below shows average usage of public transportation for Seventh District states. Public transportation is, of course, more viable in densely populated places, including large cities such as Chicago. Since large cities also coincide with highway congestion and tolling practices, the use of tolls to fund public transportation subsidies will work better there.
The use of congestion pricing, privatization, and new payments technologies remain in their infancy. Yet, because of the ever-increasing demand for driving, accompanied by little highway expansion and poor land use planning, heavy congestion will soon be a reality in many communities. For this reason, the Federal Reserve Bank will hold a one-day workshop this June to understand how pricing schemes, public–private partnerships, and emerging payment mechanisms can be used to address congestion and efficiency in commuter networks.
December 15, 2006
A Chicago-Milwaukee Region?
Could cities located near one another, Milwaukee and Chicago for example, enhance their respective growth and development through closer linkages? Why might a greater Chicago–Milwaukee metropolitan area want stronger ties, and what policies, if any, might be considered to bring about such a union?
There are several reasons why larger metropolitan areas are generally leading U.S. economic growth. In recent decades, larger metropolitan areas have typically become more specialized in managerial and technical occupations, while smaller metropolitan economies have become more specialized in production activities. For example, one recent article found that those U.S. metropolitan areas having a population above 5 million had increased their concentration of management to production workers to 39 percent by 1990 from 10 percent in 1950. In part, this increasing concentration in larger cities is due to advances in communication and transportation that have allowed companies and organizations to administer and manage from a central location or to travel easily to multiple production locations.
In this light, it is understandable, then, that larger cities have also tended to grow more rapidly in terms of income and/or population. That is because specialized professional and managerial occupations tend to pay more than production. Moreover, since at least the late 1970s in the U.S., economic returns to labor, including wages and salaries, have generally been growing faster for managerial, technical, and other occupations attendant to higher educational attainment.
A second reason for such shifting specialization and growth owes much to the growth in work force participation of women. In the U.S., the labor force participation of working age women rose from 37.7 in 1960 to almost 59.6 percent today. Moreover, the educational attainment of women has also been rising such that it now exceeds men among the younger age cohorts. Since young singles tend to marry someone with similar education, this has given rise to growing numbers of “power couples” who often must find not one, but two, specialized jobs in the same labor market. Because large metropolitan areas have both deep labor markets and more specialized occupational opportunities, these places have become magnets for such “power couples.” In turn, firms respond to the greater labor supply of professionals by siting their establishments in larger metropolitan areas, and thereby transform local economies.
There are several reasons to keep an eye on the greater Chicago and Milwaukee areas to examine the prospects that they will someday become a single labor market and benefit from the attendant economies of larger scale and scope of such a merger. The Chicago and Milwaukee areas are only 86 miles apart, as measured from city center to city center. The Chicago metro area is more populous at 9.4 million as compared to 1.5 million in Milwaukee, but together they yield a population of 11.0 million.
Historically, Chicago–Milwaukee work force linkages have been limited. Only 13,000 Milwaukee residents commute to Chicago, daily, as of year 2000, up from 1,600 in year 1990. The reverse commute is even smaller. However, commuting in both directions is growing rapidly.
Still, a closer look at some important subsectors of professional industry workers is suggestive of the greater work force that may soon arise from combination. The chart below combines industry employment for Chicago and Milwaukee metro areas across several professional, management and business service sectors. As combined, for example, employment in the Chicago–Milwaukee “computer systems design” sector would rank second to New York, allowing Chicago to bypass both the San Francisco and the Los Angeles metro areas. Other sectors of mutual benefit in Chicago and Milwaukee can be seen at the Midwest Economy website.
While such stronger within-industry labor markets might be advantageous, the additional attraction across multiple sectors may be greater still. For households with members having differing but specialized occupations, the possibilities for a multiple match of people with jobs in a combined Chicago–Milwaukee metro area labor pool could be great. This would enhance companies’ ability to attract and retain skilled labor in both regions.
So too, not all jobs within the professional and business services sectors require the very highest educational attainment. For example, according to recent estimates of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, office and administrative support jobs comprise one-third of all employment in the combined professional services, finance, and management of companies when measured in industry sectors. So too, spin-off employment would also generate a wide range of local employment as the spending of added service professionals ripples through the local economy. This feature is especially important since job needs are great for lesser-skilled labor in both markets.
How might Chicago and Milwaukee push along their destiny as a combined metropolitan area? One low-cost way is to publicize their mutual proximity in marketing each region to prospective employers and to job recruits. Both Chicago and Milwaukee are highly active in economic development marketing. Of course, private sector employers and employment intermediaries may also be effective in spreading such information about the greater breadth of employment opportunities.
Another policy avenue may be greater investment in transportation between the metro areas that would facilitate commuting flows. Both interstate highways and train transportation are now in service. The possible labor market advantages of easier and more dependable auto and passenger train travel might weigh significantly in the consideration of any future roadway/rail expansion and maintenance decisions. Combined efforts in applying for federal transportation grant monies to serve a large and more closely-integrated Chicago–Milwaukee market might also be effective—for both personal travel and for freight transportation including railroad.
Milwaukee’s major airport is also located between downtown Milwaukee and downtown Chicago. At a time when the Chicago area’s air travel capacity is strained, better access to Milwaukee’s Mitchell field could be advantageous.
Other cooperative ventures and ideas have yet to be identified. The absence of organized efforts to do so is a bit puzzling in the Chicago–Milwaukee corridor. In contrast, the advent of the trade agreements between Canada and the U.S. has sparked any number of private and private-public associations to promote natural trade flows across the border within local corridors. As the chart below shows, the progress of employment growth has not been especially robust in either metropolitan area over the past 15 years. Perhaps a little détente along the Illinois-Wisconsin border might be advantageous to all.