Mayoral Candidates on “Neighborhood Economies”


Eleven mayoral candidates were asked the following questions this month. All responded by e-mail unless otherwise noted: < > Answers were compiled by Sonya Jongsma Knauss and have not been edited for clarity or correct word usage.

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Previous months’ questions and answers:

Check out the February Riverwest Currents for a comprehensive Voters’ Guide, including a recap of mayoral candidate answers and information about aldermanic candidates in the 3rd and 6th Districts.

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What role should the city play in fostering neighborhood-scale economic development? Are there any specific programs or changes you would implement to help stimulate Milwaukee’s “neighborhood economies”?

Tom Barrett

Neighborhood Economies: The lack of stability, comprehensive planning and small business mentors has left many neighborhood commercial strips in distress. While it’s true that filling store fronts and building on vacant land will lend hope to a neighborhood, that hope will fade with high turnover and a mismatch of businesses and architecture.

We lack a coordinated effort to assist neighborhood commercial strips. For example, we need to do a better job of connecting entrepreneurs to the opportunities that neighborhood commercial corridors offer and we need to link small business mentors with individuals who have a vision for their neighborhood commercial areas.

I will strengthen both those efforts. I will also make sure that existing businesses and new start-ups are actively involved in the streamlining and coordination of existing services. The Barrett Administration will listen and improve the delivery of services. We are in this together and we will partner for success.

Vince Bobot

Economic growth depends on our ability to give the business community an incentive to locate in Milwaukee neighborhoods. City government can create this incentive with common sense initiatives and by lowering the cost of doing business in Milwaukee.

Lower the property tax levy. The cost of doing business in Milwaukee must be lowered without sacrificing important services. Oversight in the day-to-day operations of government helps Milwaukee do more with less. Trim the budget for efficiency instead of all-or-nothing program cuts. I have exposed over $40 million in city government overruns in my campaign for Mayor — Milwaukee has to stop wasting taxpayer dollars.

Business Partnership Plan. Let government work for your success. One city representative will fulfill the requirements for opening a business in Milwaukee. It will be that person’s job to work side-by-side with the owner to help the business grow and thrive in compliance with the City.

Link retailers to neighborhoods. Neighborhoods thrive when buying power is kept in the community. Connect people and businesses with well-thought out infrastructure and transportation initiatives. Continue working with Business Improvement Districts to effectively market and promote businesses to neighborhoods.

Control Crime. Crime undermines every effort to improve business. I have 21 years of crime fighting experience with Milwaukee Police Department, so I know what effectively fights crime. My programs develop the relationship between police officers and the people of the neighborhoods that they patrol. I will hold the MPD accountable to a two-minute dispatch time for all emergency calls.

David Clarke

Most city economic development strategies fall into two rival strategies — chasing major downtown projects and trying to create thriving neighborhoods. Lately, the City Department Of Development has focused on trying to land or build major projects downtown. This effort has succeeded in bringing a couple of important headquarters downtown, attracting high cost condominium projects to the downtown, and spending a fortune on auditoriums, stadiums, and the Grand Avenue mall. My economic development strategy however will favor more to the neighborhood and small business development.

The approach, granted, must be balanced. Nevertheless, instead of only public subsidies for downtown entertainment complexes we could direct those funds for infrastructure improvements in neighborhood business districts. Instead, of working to attract million dollar condos downtown we should try to promote affordable middle class housing throughout the city. Instead of only funding the relocation of large corporations to the downtown, we could focus on helping encourage small business startups in neighborhoods. A balanced approach is imperative, but lets make sure we include all areas of our city.

City government correlated with the private sector must support entrepreneurs at each stage of their business growth. Programs should be established to help small and medium sizes businesses gather the relevant and crucial information to allow them to develop their growth strategy and eventually prosper.

We need to increase the percentages of minorities and women in management, we need to increase venture capital and attract entrepreneurs, we need to support the efforts by the young professionals in Milwaukee, to increase mentor programs, internship options, and support networks and finally we need to keep college graduates at home. The brain drain is killing our city.

Regionalism is vital for today’s metropolitans to survive. Region thinking includes neighborhoods, communities, and the inner city as one. Only together can we make Milwaukee great again.

Frank Cumberbatch

I will ask the Department of Neighborhood Services to perform a SWOT analysis on each Milwaukee neighborhood to identify their strengths and weaknesses and reveal the opportunities and threats that affect their future. They will then create a strategic plan, with input from neighborhood residents of course, to foster neighborhood-scale economic development.In order to stimulate Milwaukee’s neighborhood economies, the mayor must be committed to eliminating poverty, racism, and segregation once and for all and it begins by including neighborhood leadership in identifying the needs of the neighborhood.

Any program I create will be customized for that neighborhood, but the program will include initiatives to accomplish the following:

• Revitalize the commercial district. For example, I will encourage the creation of Community Development Corporation (CDCs) in every neighborhood.

• Develop microbusinesses. Create a CDBG funded non-profit organization to help emerging entrepreneurs develop successful businesses that serve their communities. The analysis mentioned above will identify the businesses that can succeed in the neighborhood. This organization can help find capital, human resources and market information which would improve the business’ chances of success.

• Develop the community workforce. A workforce with a diverse set of skills will attract a similarly diverse set of businesses.

• Grow good neighborhood jobs. I will act as the salesman for the neighborhoods by selling the strengths of the neighborhood to small businessmen around the country and encouraging them to move their businesses to our neighborhoods.

Sandy Folaron

As a business owner and leader of a major commercial redevelopment effort, I am the only candidate that has “hands on” experience developing and running a business(s) and redeveloping a commercial strip in Milwaukee. Many of our neighborhood commercial districts are ready for redevelopment and deserve the attention that city planning has focused on Milwaukee’s downtown. With the resurgence of the “creative class” revitalizing our diverse and cultural neighborhoods, it only makes sense to implement a city strategy that focuses resources on our local neighborhood commercial districts and promotes the entrepreneurial spirit that has redefined many neighborhood districts already. Streets such as Villard, Mitchell, Kinnikinnic, Martin Luther King Drive, and Vliet offer examples of the ongoing renaissance that has already started in Milwaukee. As mayor, I will provide resources to other areas that will help duplicate the successes of these thriving districts.

Below are a few specific actions I will take to stimulate neighborhood economies.

• Direct my department heads to offer “one stop” shopping for those entrepreneurs interested in starting a business or purchasing a commercial property.

• Advocate for Business Associations that set the vision and represent the best collective interests of the business and property owners.

• Continue and expand the ongoing successful programs such as Facade Grants and the Mayors Design Award Program that foster and encourage creative and appropriate storefront renewal.

• Inventory, clean up, and aggressively market city buildings that are in need of new ownership. Nuisance abatement programs will be used to motivate negligent landlords.

• Use promotional tours to educate and market our unique ethnic and historical districts to residents and potential investors in the City of Milwaukee.

• Begin a “Buy Milwaukee” marketing program to identify and promote our unique city businesses.

• Implement strategic and holistic neighborhood planning that addresses the commercial district and it’s link to the community it serves.

Our local commercial districts anchor and define neighborhood development. They add to the interest and viability of our communities. Business development serves as a catalyst for building improvements and adds value to surrounding neighborhoods. As mayor, I will be sure the city fosters and encourages such growth. Milwaukee is a city of exciting and historic neighborhoods. We must protect and promote those strengths to take our city to the next level.

Arthur Jones

(by phone)

I’ve stated — and I firmly believe — that there has to be a balance between downtown development and neighborhood development. Neighborhood development is not just about housing and real estate development — the city needs to support emerging businesses and entrepreneurs who can’t get venture capital in other areas. That support does not necessarily need to come from the city coffers, but as it relates to obtaining permits, that whole process needs to be streamlined to assist emerging businesses, small businesses, in dealing with the government bureaucracy. I believe there has to be improvement in that area.

I also think it’s the responsibility of the DCD to look beyond the large investors and the large investment areas. That’s not to say that the Park East Corridor is not vitally important for the city of Milwaukee; however, the city of Milwaukee is more than the Park East Corridor, and it’s more than the condos that are being built downtown. I welcome that development, but Milwaukee is more than that and it’s the responsibility of the mayor to see that everyone is treated fairly by the bureaucracy called the City of Milwaukee when opening small businesses and attempting to engage in entrepreneurship. Doing this also helps the neighborhoods because most of the people employed in these businesses live in the neighborhoods, including the owners.

Martin Matson

First, I would want to talk to your neighborhood businesses about the “red tape” at city hall. I was under the impression that a lot of the functions had been stream-lined, but based on the complaints, obviously not.

One of my campaign pledges is to create a forum of business leaders to assist the city in business development. This is not an idle promise. It is this type of group that can address issues like this, and with the involvement of the mayor, change city practices to allow businesses to thrive. That being said, beyond that first step, a longer approach needs to be made to insure economic development along all of our major streets that have commercial developments, both large and small. This means bringing in the neighborhood development corporations, and developing long term strategies to assist small businesses, from getting started with bank loans, to coming together to negotiate health care benefit rates. Coming together as a focused group brings greater leverage in all areas. Bringing together a comprehensive plan, with the elected officials leading the way, will bring stability and public/private funding to make positive changes.

Tom Nardelli

I will focus on the kind of economic development that revitalizes and stabilizes our neighborhoods. Prosperous small businesses can have an uplifting effect on the surrounding area by deterring crime, improving the urban landscape, providing jobs and bringing neighbors together.

As mayor, I will put the resources of my office behind neighborhood-based small business development and entrepreneurship. Currently, Milwaukee does not have a formal small business start-up plan but offers significant assistance through the permit desk to expedite start-up and occupancy. I will organize these and other city services into a web-based Small Business Enterprise Center.

Start-ups can use the Center as a one-stop shop for accessing comprehensive resources: location of sites and facilities, financial consulting, business plan development, one-on-one business coaching, mentoring, and financial management assistance. The Center will also offer access to tax incentives and low interest loans for the purchase of fixed assets, linked deposit loans, micro and small business loans and other financing products from sources such as SBA and WHEDA.

As mayor, I will investigate ways to enhance small business incentive programs beyond Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation loans and the Facade Grant Program. I will also work with the MMAC, Hispanic Business Council African-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Milwaukee and other business groups to create a regulatory environment that is not unduly onerous for the small business owner.

By coordinating the efforts of the Milwaukee Police, the Departments of Neighborhood Services, and Sanitation (among others), I will assure a safer, healthier working environment in which neighborhood-scale business can operate.

John Pitta

Mayor John Norquist has focused much of the economic development in the City of Milwaukee on the downtown area. Many of the projects and initiatives he supported have been positive for Milwaukee. As mayor, John Pitta would shift the focus of economic development to the central city and more neighborhood development in those neighborhoods that need it most.

I have been running for mayor since December of 2002. Some neighborhoods in Milwaukee such as Brewers Hill, Third Ward, Brady Street, Walker’s Point, and others are thriving. Those neighborhoods and downtown are able to develop new projects because private investors realize the opportunities and the residents have been very pro-active. My vision is to create that atmosphere and economic vitality in the central city and neighborhoods throughout the city. These areas need the city to support development.

In my plan I specifically talk about Lisbon Avenue, Fond Du Lac Avenue, Brown Deer Road, National Avenue, Mitchell Street, and Lincoln Avenue just to name a few. Once the city begins promoting these areas for development and supporting them with the resources we have available, such as block grant money, the neighborhoods will start to improve. It ties in perfectly with the Milwaukee Public Schools plan, the “Neighborhood Schools Initiative.” If we want parents and children to commit to neighborhood schools, we need a mayor who will fight to improve those neighborhoods.

I have also responded to a Small Business Times publication regarding my thoughts on these very issues. I was one of only four candidates who responded and I am committed to supporting small business in Milwaukee. Some of the so-called major candidates have not bothered to respond to this very critical issue.

Marvin Pratt

No Response.

Leon Todd

The city should play a key or central role in neighborhood economic development strategies. Strategic plans should be put in place fostering neighborhood-scale economic development equally across the city as it relates to the CDBG grants and DCD planning. The planning process that is in place today is incomplete and inadequate. Local corruption in the Block Grant [CDBG] Federal Funding to the cities is one of the reasons that there is such unequal distribution of resources going to neighborhood business development. Too many of the CDBG dollars are spent on political activity or redirected downtown to cover city hall’s line item red ink and not enough spent on building local community business environments. We must put an end to this type of manipulation of federal funding so that the distribution of federal funding is equal to all neighborhoods and that economic development gets the lion’s share of the dollars.

The mayor must be not only visible but actively and directly involved in on site planning processes for each neighborhood of the city. We must begin to invest in the infrastructure of our city to support local business development. A myopic view of infrastructure investment [lighting, greenspace, parking, roads, water, parks, sewer, etc.] negatively impacts the incentive for banks to make neighborhood business loans and negatively affects the motivation of local entrepreneurs to invest in neighborhoods for a return on their investment.

We must put more money into neighborhood security forces like public safety officers and public security officers to protect public and private investment. Using Block Grant dollars intended for more neighborhood policing for projects like the Riverwalk is unacceptable.