The Top 3 Milwaukee Business Stories of 2013

Dec 23, 2013

The year 2013 ended with a flourish, at least as far as business news goes.  A development from mid-December tops the list of biggest stories of the year for the Business Journal of Milwaukee.

The Bucks playing at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Credit Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

1.  New ownership for Milwaukee's NBA team?

The announcement came December 16, when Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl announced that he's interested in bringing additional owners on board to ensure the team remains in Milwaukee for the long-term.  "Think about that," says Business Journal editor Mark Kass.  "He's owned them since 1985 all by himself.  He's been the only guy out front, but now he's saying, 'okay, I'm going to add investors.'

"[Because of] what that could mean for the future of the team - and the future of the arena - I'd put that story up front now."  Kass points out that Kohl's announcement is intrinsically linked to the effort by city leaders to determine how to renovate or replace the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which the NBA argues is not up to league specifications.  The Bucks' lease there expires in three years, though Kass says he believes the NBA would probably accept the Bucks' situation if a new arena is in the works by the end of the current lease.

Northwestern Mutual's new tower.
Credit Northwestern Mutual

2. Lakefront real estate development.

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance announced plans in September to build a 32-story office tower in downtown Milwaukee, tearing down its building at 800 E. Wisconsin Avenue.  That demolition is already underway.  

The new tower comes amid a flurry of building projects planned for the area near along Milwaukee's downtown lakefront - which also includes the proposed Couture project  and the reconfiguring of the lakefront Interstate highway interchange.

"You could have a brand-new area of the city, with thousands of new employees and a new area to look at," Kass says.  

Real estate reporter Sean Ryan agrees, saying the NML headquarter building has been the biggest story on his beat this year.  "You look at that, and the implications - they could have gone down to Franklin, but instead they chose Milwaukee and building off the momentum of the lakefront."

3.  Wisconsin's loss of one big employer, and gain of another.

The sudden closure of the Golden Guernsey dairy plant in January took many by surprise.  More than 100 workers lost their jobs, and many school districts were left scrambling for new suppliers to provide milk for school lunches.  

While Kass says there is optimism that another company will bring that dairy plant back to former production levels, another company has made headlines with the announcement of a new, huge distribution center in Kenosha.  The online retailer Amazon was already at work constructing a new 1 million square foot fulfillment facility when it announced plans in December to build a second facility in an adjacent space.  The two buildings are expected to employ more than 16-hundred workers.

"So here we get this new building worth hundreds of millions of dollars, new employees, and now the state gets more revenue," Kass says.

That's because, as Kass points out, another Amazon-related development was significant in 2013, as well - the retailer now collects sales tax on orders placed in Wisconsin, which is expected to add around $30 million per year in revenue to the state's coffers.