Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What if Milwuakee went to bat for Chicago?

Here's a twist. Milwaukee lobbying for investment in Chicago. A recent Sun-Times editorial, suggests that leaders in large metro areas (like Milwaukee and Chicago) should band together and lobby the federal government for more investment to spur metro economic growth.

The editorial states that Chicago's train yards would be a good place to start:

"At the heart of the nation and on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago's location makes it the third largest intermodal port in the world, after Hong Kong and Singapore. Almost $1 trillion of our nation's freight moves through this region annually, and freight volumes are expected to increase 80 percent or so in the next 20 years. Yet trains often must slow to a crawl through northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana because technological and physical updates to tracks and rail yards are long overdue. Businesses are losing money due to delayed deliveries, and drivers are experiencing more traffic jams on local roads. The federal government's response has been to spread surface transportation funding around like peanut butter, rather than investing strategically in major national rail hubs, ports and gateways, like Chicago."
What would be the rationale for politicians in Southeastern Wisconsin to go to bat for federal investment in Chicago's train yards? Simply put - the more goods that Chicago imports, the more goods that southeastern Wisconsin can distribute.

The Milwaukee region is a natural hub for distribution and logistics. In fact, the M7 has identified "distribution" as a regional export driver - with the region currently playing host to 10,386 distribution jobs paying an average wage of $50,815. Not bad.

Our region is emerging as a distribution hub because of ample land and lower costs. Just look at yesterday's news that Illinois-based Coleman Cable, will expand into a 502,000 sq. ft. building and bring with them 75 jobs for their warehousing and distribution functions. The company states:
"...the Pleasant Prairie location will allow the company to consolidate distribution facilities and reduce costs, while simultaneously...providing first-in-class logistics, delivery and customer service."
The Coleman Cable expansion news follows the announcement by Uline Inc. that it will move its headquarters, R&D and distribution functions from Illinois to Wisconsin by 2010 - adding 1000 jobs to the Milwaukee region.

Despite our market advantages and recent "wins" in the distribution game, can we really expect our region's leaders to expend their political capital south of the Wisconsin border?

It's possible. The most recent precedent for Wisconsin going to bat for Illinois is Milwaukee's recent embrace of Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid. On the state level, Wisconsin also recently joined an effort last year to win a federally funded, state-of-the-art coal gasification plant for southern Illinois.

In the end, cooperative lobbying efforts could translate a Chicago gain into Milwaukee growth.

No comments: