Here’s What Milwaukee Needs to Accomplish in 2018

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An excerpt from the Milwaukee Record piece posted on 1/3/18. 

By: Jeremy Fojut — Chief Idea Officer, co-founder, NEWaukee

Last year, I wrote about the need for increased connectivity and risk taking from institutions. It was a big, lofty and esoteric talking point. In the past year, a lot has happened. Institutional companies like Northwestern Mutual and Aurora Health Care paved the path forward and put a huge investment into the startup ecosystem, Start Up Milwaukee launched a statewide startup week, the Great Milwaukee Foundation launched On the Table around community conversations, and there has been a lot more discussions and movement toward future neighborhood investment. With that being said, I wanted to get a little more granular with what I would like to see happen in Milwaukee in 2018.

• One pass
With the streetcar coming online in 2018, we have an opportunity to do something complicated, but extremely important. We need a one pass for all of our transit options public and private. I know Uber and Lyft would be more difficult to work with, but it doesn’t hurt to try. I am looking for one pass that connects (Zipcar, ride sharing services, Bublr Bikes, streetcar, and bus system). It is lofty, but if we get this right we will have a seamless, modern, and robust transit system.

• Water taxi
While there have been rumblings and attempts, the timing is now prime for a water taxi. With all the hard work Milwaukeeans have put into revitalizing our riverfront and the increased water traffic I can’t think of a better time to make this happen. Think of the opportunities and increased access to the river that we would see if there was an inexpensive option. If anyone is interested I am open to helping however I can to bring this to life.

• Lake Express ferry
I have taken the ferry across Lake Michigan. Let’s just say it breaks the wallet. It definitely isn’t for the average person. But what if it was? What if it was looked at as a transit option so when people are driving across country or looking for a day trip they would skip Chicago and take the ferry across? The challenge is it’s too expensive. But what if it was subsidized? As an entrepreneur and a believer in the private market I can only imagine if we did this right the amount of traffic it would generate. In Europe a lot of the car port ferries are inexpensive and meant for economic development and to move people; ours is used for people that have big homes on the other side of the lake.

• Civic innovation
The state and the city went all out for Foxconn, we also put in a proposal for Amazon. The truth is moving companies that large is like winning the lottery for some, and on the other side it is tragic. Regardless of what side of the coin you believe, the state took a risk and followed their beliefs, and government laid the foundation for future economic development in the region. Now it is time for us to get more aggressive on the innovation front. With companies like Google getting into civic innovation like Sidewalk Labs, and Elon Musk’s Boring Company creating transit options of the future in Chicago, we have be more proactive in bringing these new ideas to the city. We at least have to get them on the phone and see what they have to say. There is no reason we shouldn’t be in the conversation to have the Boring Company connect a tunnel from Chicago, through Racine and Kenosha to Milwaukee.

• Pedestrian friendly design
Milwaukee is not a pedestrian friendly city, nor do we currently strive to be one. We need traffic engineers and car first planners to take a back seat to design and architects. We have too many dead streets, street level parking lots, and empty storefronts. We need to get serious about putting people first. The Milwaukee Bucks seem to be doing a terrific job in understanding how to create a place for pedestrians. We will see what it looks like when it is finished.

• Talent attraction / retention strategy
While everything I wrote about above will help with talent attraction and attention, it is time to develop a more comprehensive plan. Let’s face it: the city needs to develop more talent and attract more people to fill the future demand. The State of Wisconsin is starting to get serious about talent; however, the city doesn’t seem to have a plan. Maybe it is not the city’s plan to attract more people, but it is ultra competitive right now across the country. I meet with a lot of companies around this specific topic weekly. While some are embracing new strategies, the majority don’t want to invest in something new or take risks. I am excited to be working with the M7 to accomplish this task in the new year. We don’t have to get everything 100% perfect, but we have to develop a plan to be proactive instead of reactive.