Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's State of the City address on Monday was upbeat. He covered issues ranging from jobs to violence to teen pregnancy.
The tone of the speech was set before Mayor Barrett even took the stage. Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Frank Almond played his newly recovered Stradivarius violin. Robbers had stolen the 300-year-old instrument.
When the music ended, several Milwaukee business leaders expressed their devotion to the city. Joshua Kaiser is owner and founder of Rishi Tea Company.
“A lot of our friends in the industry in California, New York, Chicago, China always joke with us, 'What’s going on? Why Milwaukee?' Well, my business partner and I grew up in Milwaukee, we’re both graduates of Rufus King, and I say why not Milwaukee?” Kaiser says.
When Mayor Barrett took the stage, he echoed the message. He called Milwaukee a great city that can become even better.
“Strong Milwaukee neighborhoods are linked to a strong Milwaukee economy. My goal is to continue Milwaukee’s status as the driving force in the region and the state. That means we have t to continue to attract and retain companies and jobs,” Barrett says.
One company the mayor mentioned is Solaris. It makes medical garments and plans to expand this year in the city’s Menomonee Valley. But Barrett also noted that the city needs more money to help fund startups. So he’s proposing that Milwaukee become a KIVA city.
“KIVA uses its web site to match small loans from average citizens with micro-enterprises all over the world. For example, if KIVA were here, a seamstress could seek a small loan to buy a new sewing machine and someone in Dallas could help finance it.” Barrett says.
Barrett says the city is talking with KIVA, as well as with companies interested in locating in the Reed Street Yards in Walker’s Point and at Century City on the north side.
Common Council President Michael Murphy says the mayor’s goals are ambitious.
“Century City has many challenges. It is much like the Menomonee Valley. A lot of people back then didn’t think that had any potential and it wasn’t worth the investment,” Murphy says.
Murphy says he’s looking forward to working with the mayor on his vision because job creation in the central city is paramount.
Other highlights of Barrett’s speech included applauding the city for reducing its teen pregnancy rate by 50 percent since 2008. Yet he noted that Milwaukee must do more to improve the outcomes for African American babies.
“A part of our work is promoting safe sleep, and we will continue to do that. But you should know that for every infant who does because of an unsafe sleep environment, four infants in our city are dying because of complications of prematurity,” Barrett says.
Barrett also urged the federal government to stop tearing families apart by reforming the country’s immigration laws. And he spoke in favor of changing Wisconsin’s constitution, so it allows same-sex marriage.