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Once the industrial heart of the state of Wisconsin, over the decades the Menomonee Valley gradually deteriorated into a high profile eyesore.
Polluted, smelly, and ugly ... all were used to describe the stretch of land from roughly the 6th Street viaduct to what is now Miller Park. Though hundreds of people worked there -- at the stockyards, gear manufacturer Falk Corp., railroad switching yards and other industries -- the area was best known for acre upon acre of brownfields.
Local historian John Gurda noted the economic importance of the valley but said "its persistent pollution problems and the generalized ugliness of much of its development made the district a civic embarrassment to some Milwaukeeans."
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett put a different spin on it during his unsuccessful campaign for governor against Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, saying under his leadership the city had turned the area into a job-creating machine.
In a video, Barrett compared the jobs created in the valley to the lack of development on county-owned land in the Park East freeway corridor, claiming: "Tom Barrett redeveloped the Menomonee Valley, which now supports nearly 4,000 jobs in Wisconsin."
The election is over, but we were still wondering about that claim.
Without a doubt, the recession cost the Milwaukee area thousands of jobs. The state Department of Workforce Development says metro area employment is 798,400, down about 65,000 jobs from December 2007, when the recession began.
But this claim relates to a different time frame -- since Barrett took office -- and a specific area. So was the city able to add thousands of jobs in the valley?
In an word: yes.
But the work didn’t start with Barrett, who took office in 2004. There have been several master plans cooked up for the valley over the decades until the current onetook effect in 1998.
As far back as 1977, Mayor Henry Maier saw the valley’s potential, saying: "The Menomonee Valley redevelopment project is probably the largest industrial revitalization project in the country, and I am determined that it will also be the best."
Maier’s successor , Mayor John O. Norquist, spent years fighting for control of a key piece of valley property -- 134 acres held by CMC Heartland Partners, the parent company of the old Milwaukee Road railroad. The city finally wrested control of that site in 2003 for $6.8 million.
That move in particular cleared the way for a city-owned Menomonee Valley Industrial Center.
Additionally, moves under Norquist -- such as bringing the 6th Steet Viaduct down to the valley level -- improved access. The bridge previously stretched across the valley.
What did Barrett do since taking office?
According to Rocky Marcoux, head of the Department of City Development, the city has spent some $48 million in public improvements -- cleaning polluted "brownfields," site preparation and so forth -- and created seven tax incremental financing districts.
It also spent $25 million to extend Canal St., which runs down the center of the valley, so it links up with the freeway at Miller Park. That’s important because it gives another easy way for traffic to reach businesses there.
Marcoux said the city can offer business owners lots that compare with suburban industrial parks: "We can offer them land at market rates. We don’t have to induce them."
A quick tally of the major additions to the valley on Barrett’s watch:
Recreation-related: The Harley-Davidson Museum, Iron Horse Hotel, and Potawatomi Casino expansion. Combined, 1,332 jobs.
Industrial park: From the first industrial park tenant, pizza maker Palermo Villa Inc., which has grown from 180 to about 500 jobs, to the most recent addition, windmill generator-maker Ingeteam. Combined 1,156 jobs.
Others: An assortment of jobs retained (Cargill) and new ones (such as Zimmerman Design Group, Proven Direct). Combined: 1,671 jobs.
That tallies out to 4,159 jobs, a figure deemed accurate by Laura Bray, executive director of the Menomonee Valley Partners, a nonprofit group established to promote business development in the area. It also corresponds with coverage in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by commercial real estate reporter Tom Daykin.
In all, about 10,000 people work in the valley -- a figure Bray called a rough estimate because there has not been a recent detailed study of total employment.
And some 26 companies have moved or expanded in the valley, according to the Menomonee Valley Partners.
In some cases, expansion hasn’t gone according to plan. For instance, Harley originally expected to build an office complex with nearly 400 jobs near its museum, but those plans have been on hold since the economy tanked.
Nevertheless, there is plenty to look at in assessing Barrett’s claim.
As a former candidate for governor, and current civic cheerleader, Mayor Tom Barrett boasts of creating thousands of jobs in the Menomonee Valley. While overall jobs in the city are down, and Barrett came into office with some key assets put in place by his predecessors, our tally puts new jobs in the valley since 2004 at more than 4,000.
We rate Barrett’s statement True.
Menomonee Valley Partners website
Video, Menomonee Valley Partners, "From the Ground Up"
John Gurda, "The Menomonee Valley: A Historical Overview."
Tom Barrett gubernatorial campaign video: "Jobs vs. Rubble"
Milwaukee Department of City Development plan for Menomonee River Valley, Oct. 1998
Recent Development in the Menomonee Valley map
News release, Mayor Barrett Welcomes Ingeteam to Milwaukee, Feb, 16, 2010
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, opinion piece written by Tom Barrett, Needed: A straight shooter and a real record, Oct. 30, 2010
Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development statistics
Interview, Rocky Marcoux, Milwaukee Commissioner of City Development, Nov. 2, 2010
Interview, Jeff Fleming, spokesman, Department of City Development, Nov. 4, 2010
Interview, Laura Bray, executive director, Menomonee Valley Partners, Nov. 5, 2010
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel archives
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