Milwaukee: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

Milwaukee, a commercial and industrial hub for the Great Lakes region, is home to six Fortune 1000 manufacturers (including Harley-Davidson Inc., Rockwell Automation, and Johnson Controls), banks, and diversified service companies as well as one of the nation's ten largest insurance firms. The metropolitan area places among the top manufacturing centers in the United States, ranking second among major metropolitan areas in the percentage of its workforce in manufacturing. The economy is dominated by small- to medium-size firms with representatives in nearly every industrial classification.

Metropolitan area firms are engaged primarily in the manufacture of machinery; contrary to Milwaukee's reputation as a brewery capital, less than one percent of the city's industrial output is related to brewing. In recent years, the metro region has earned a reputation as a center for precision manufacturing. It leads the nation in the production of industrial controls, X-ray equipment, steel foundry parts, and mining machinery. The area is also considered a printing and publishing center, housing more than 11 percent of the top 70 printing companies in North America. Publishers and printers combined employ more than 21,000 people, about 2.5 percent of the workforce.

Professional and managerial positions are the fastest-growing occupations in Milwaukee, accounting for almost 27 percent of the workforce. Service businesses constitute the largest sector of the local economy, and health care positions account for about 27 percent of service sector jobs. The area is home to four major multi-hospital health systems. Other major areas of service employment include business services (27 percent), educational services (7 percent) and social services (10 percent).

Nearly a quarter of the state's high-tech firms, employing more than one-third of Wisconsin's technology industry staff, are located in Milwaukee County. Between 1990 and 1999, Milwaukee led Wisconsin in the creation of high-tech jobs, adding 10,000 positions.

Tourism is also a major contributor to the local economy. Milwaukee hosts many festivals and parades throughout the year, and is home to nationally recognized museums, a zoo, professional sports teams, and entertainment venues. Altogether these attractions bring more than 5 million tourists and generate $1.9 billion annually.

Items and goods produced: automobile frames and parts, heavy pumping machinery, gas engines, heavy lubricating and agricultural equipment, large mining shovels, dredges, saw mill and cement machinery, malt drinks and products, packaged meat, boots, shoes, leather products, knit goods, women's sportswear, gloves, children's clothes, diesel engines, motorcycles, outboard motors, electrical equipment, products of iron and steel foundries, metal fabricators

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Businesses

Milwaukee is known for its harmonious working relationship with the business community throughout the entire area. Its Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) is a nonprofit corporation offering financial resources to aid in the city's economic growth. Its staff provides financial, technical, training, and ombudsman services to Milwaukee businesses and also assists in securing state of Wisconsin business development funds for Milwaukee firms. MEDC is very supportive of minority-owned businesses. Additionally, the city of Milwaukee's Emerging Business Enterprise Program helps emerging and small businesses with support services, contract opportunities, and financial resources, and helps establish mentor relationships between emerging and established businesses.

Local programs

The city's Community Block Grant Administration oversees the use of approximately $30 million of federal funds or programs in targeted central city neighborhoods. The funding is used for housing rehab programs, special job and business development, and public service programs such as crime prevention, job training, housing for homeless, youth recreation programs and community organization programs.

State programs

Wisconsin's Department of Commerce was created in 1996; it offers a variety of loan and grant programs for both businesses and communities. The depart-ment's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program was created to increase participation of firms owned by disadvantaged individuals in all federal aid and state transportation facility contracts. The department's Minority Business Development loan program provides financial assistance for the creation and expansion of minority-owned businesses in Wisconsin through low interest loans. The Employee Ownership Assistance Loan Program helps groups of employees purchase businesses that would otherwise close by providing individual awards up to $15,000 for feasibility studies or professional assistance.

Job training programs

The Milwaukee industrial and business community profits from area educational institutions, which provide technology transfer, research services, and training programs. The state's Customized Labor Training program assists companies that are investing in new technologies or manufacturing processes by providing a grant of up to 50 percent of the cost of training employees on the new technologies. Also available in Milwaukee is the "Small Business School" television program, a series that highlights some of America's most successful small businesses and their owners.

Development Projects

In 2005, the city of Milwaukee received $20.2 million in federal assistance for continued economic development. This assistance took the form of an $18 million New Market Tax Credit allocation and $2.2 million in brownfield grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection agency. The New Market Tax Credit will be used to offer low-interest loans to businesses in low-income areas of the city. The brownfield grants will be used to clean up properties contaminated from previous uses, such as former gas station sites. In 2004, Real Estate Recycling spent $10 million to renovate a former foundry plant, creating the 200,000 square foot Stadium Business Park. The area will be used for light industrial businesses.

Economic Development Information: Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce, 756 N. Milwaukee St., Ste. 400, Milwaukee, WI 53202; telephone (414)287-4100. Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation, 809 N. Broadway, PO Box 324, Milwaukee, WI 53201; telephone (414)286-5840

Commercial Shipping

Because of its location near the nation's population center—nearly 66 million people and one-third of U.S. manufacturing output is within 600 miles of the city—Milwaukee is a major commercial shipping hub. Of vital importance to both the local and state economies is the Port of Milwaukee, a shipping and receiving point for international trade as well as the primary heavy-lift facility on the Great Lakes. A protected harbor permits year-round navigation through the port from three rivers in addition to Lake Michigan. With access to the eastern seaboard via the St. Lawrence Seaway and to the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi River, the Port of Milwaukee processes three million tons of cargo annually and has helped the state maintain an export growth rate twice the national average. Principal inbound commodities include cement, coal, machinery, steel, salt, limestone, asphalt, and crushed rock.

More than 500 multiservice motor freight carriers are engaged in shipping goods from Milwaukee to markets throughout the country. Two major rail lines serve the greater Milwaukee area; altogether, Wisconsin has 4,500 miles of track and 12 freight railroads handling 94 million tons of cargo. More than 200 million pounds of cargo and mail are handled annually by air freight carriers at General Mitchell International Airport, Wisconsin's primary terminal for commercial air travel and freight shipments.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Milwaukee is noted for a well educated workforce with a strong work ethic. Employees call in sick less frequently than those in other major urban areas, and children consistently rank near the top in scholastic achievement tests. Private business drives the city's economy, with less than 11 percent of area employees working in the public sector. Just under 22 percent of Milwaukee's workers are in manufacturing jobs, the second-highest percentage among U.S. metropolitan areas. While manufacturing is a strong component of the city's economy, service jobs have shown the most growth in recent years.

The city's diverse economy and strong work ethic has helped keep area unemployment under the national average in each of the last 30 years. Milwaukee ranks slightly below the national average in pay levels for most occupations.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Milwaukee metropolitan area labor force, 2004 annual average.

Size of non-agricultural labor force: 832,300

Number of workers employed in . . .

manufacturing: 134,200

trade, transportation and utilities: 152,500

information: 18,400

financial activities: 57,400

professional and business services: 106,800

educational and health services: 131,400

leisure and hospitality: 65,200

other services: 41,500

government: 91,500

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $17.22

Unemployment rate: 5.6% (February 2005)

Milwaukee: Economy

Largest employers (2004) Number of employees
Aurora Health Care 15,500
Covenant Healthcare System Inc. 9,520
Roundy's 7,400
Marshall & Ilsley Corp. 6,800
Wisconsin Energy 6,000
GE Healthcare 5,800
Quad/Graphics 5,300
Kohl's 5,500
Northwestern Mutual 4,600

Cost of Living

Metropolitan Milwaukee's cost of living ranks below other major metropolitan areas. The area offers a wide array of homes in a variety of price ranges.

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors in the Milwaukee area.

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $296,114

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 101.7 (U.S. average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: Ranges from 4.90% to 6.93%

State sales tax rate: 5.0%

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: 0.6%

Property tax rate: Range from $14.79 to $39.45 per $1,000 assessed valuation (2004)

Economic Information: Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce, 756 N. Milwaukee St., Ste. 400l, Milwaukee, WI 53202; telephone (414)287-4100