Milwaukee is home to several Fortune 500 headquarters and twenty-five higher educational
institutions—most of which have engineering and/or nationally-recognized STEM programs. The city itself sits beautifully on the banks of Lake Michigan and is a little more than an hour’s drive away from the urban and cultural amenities of Chicago. So why does everyone outside the market think that Milwaukee is in Minnesota and affiliate the market exclusively with beer and cheese? Why are headquarter companies having so much trouble recruiting tech talent? One of the answers was the region’s cultural reticence to evolve its brand image, or intentionally invest in tech-centric opportunities for next generation employees. Understandable for a city whose economic roots in industrial manufacturing trace back 150 years.
The phone call to Waymaker came just before the public announcement of the arrival of Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturing conglomerate. If headquarter companies were having trouble now with retaining and recruiting talent, what would it look like when one of the largest suppliers for Apple came into the market and hired thousands? Could Milwaukee really evolve into becoming a competitive tech hub? Waymaker took on both challenges and set off to help the market reposition itself internally and externally and to convince the region that Milwaukee was already competitive as a mid-sized tech market.
Milwaukee’s biggest employers were enjoying plenty of growth in digital and technology occupations. Some had opened tech offices on the west coast while others had expanded globally to leverage tech talent supply. Using employer input to customize a list of standard technology occupations, Waymaker worked with Milwaukee’s top 30 employers to customize the definition of tech for the market, therefore counting $26.6B in tech impact annually.
Historically, it has been understood that economic development work is different and therefore
separate from private industry, and that the private sector has no role in influencing or contributing to economic development efforts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Waymaker used
Milwaukee’s new $26.6B tech reality to bring public and private leaders together. CEOs of the region’s largest companies gathered alongside the Mayor to announce that Milwaukee was already a tech hub. The question now was, how do we act like one?
Waymaker developed a strategic plan for corporate leaders to create a non-profit technology
coalition. Governance guidance, operational and budgetary plans, and fundraising and engagement recommendations were provided.
Strategic Plan Development
Non-profit Mission & Organizational Development
The MKE Tech Hub is funded and fully operational with an executive director and growing staff focused on developing Milwaukee’s digitally-skilled talent pool. Regional press regularly reports on Milwaukee’s technology and entrepreneurial accomplishments with a new, 21st-century narrative that positions Milwaukee more competitively among its peers.
“Waymaker leverages their national network, shares best practices for Innovation Districts, leads as collaborators, and provides valuable wisdom to KIN Inc, the non-profit Board of Directors. Waymaker has positioned Kenosha for success as a 21st Century Leader in Innovation!”
- Debbie Ford, Chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and President of KIN, Inc.