Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Milwaukee's CSR advantage

Milwaukee's corporate culture is a bit less stuffy these days. Recent announcements by some of Milwaukee's largest corporations emphasize the principles behind corporate social responsibility (CSR). Examples which could be classified as "socially responsible" under the CSR definition include high-profile initiatives by Kohl's ("Kohl's to go Solar in California") and Johnson Controls ("Johnson Control's expansion blueprints are green"). In both cases, these home-grown corporations are advancing policies which will reduce carbon emission through support for renewable energy.

Milwaukee's brand of CSR, however, is not limited to the environment - it's also about improving neighborhoods and investing in a diverse workforce. Manpower's impending move to it's new downtown location is cheered in a recent Business Journal article for the company's commitment to improving the surrounding neighborhood ("We didn't want to just be a shiny new building"). And, lastly, S.C. Johnson was recently recognized "as one of the 100 companies that offer the greatest opportunities for Hispanic Americans in the United States."

Validating this anecdotal evidence is a recent public opinion survey from GolinHarris (a Chicago PR agency) which has produced "corporate citizenship" rankings for 152 of the largest US consumer brands. The 2006 rankings include four Milwaukee area corporations: SC Johnson (4th), Harley-Davidson (15th), Kohl's (62nd), and Miller Brewing (124th). Having two corporations in the top 20 for a relatively small region like Milwaukee is unique. The fact that Milwaukee hosts a relatively high concentration of "socially responsible" corporations could be exploited by our region's marketing machine (M7) to differentiate us from other areas of the country.

Other opinions from the GolinHarris survey? Those surveyed thought that the single most important behavior for a corporation to demonstrate was that it "values, treats employees well, fairly." Milwaukee is also a relative stand-out in this category. According to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, "On a per capita basis, the Milwaukee Region is home to the more 'best companies to work for' than any other region in the nation." In fact, a strategy to recruit talent to our region based on Milwaukee's "worker-friendly advantage" is now underway by local talent attraction and retention group, Fuel Milwaukee.

Of course, this is not to say that Milwaukee corporations can't improve their CSR credentials. A 2004 report by the Public Policy Forum found that the 50 largest Wisconsin companies lagged behind corporations nationwide and in the Midwest with regard to the gender diversity of their corporate leaders. In other words, we have work to do on the gender equity front in Wisconsin and Milwaukee.

Inclusion, environmentalism and social equity are terms that are typically not associated with Milwaukee's corporate climate. Maybe it's time to change how we think and talk about our region's corporate entities.

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