Project Milwaukee: Southern Connections

Cultivating A Regional Corridor

For decades, there’s been talk that Milwaukee and Chicago would grow together into one large urban area. Some planners are convinced southeastern Wisconsin’s best chances for growth include a strong connection to Chicago.

Others say the merging of the metropolitan areas is inevitable because the nation is spreading out, in terms of housing and jobs. However, groups promoting regionalism say it’s a deliberate effort, and not everyone shares the same vision for the future.

During June 2011, WUWM examined which communities in this corridor are growing and why as well as the history of the region, transportation concerns and environmental assets and challenges.

As part of Project Milwaukee: Southern Connections, we take a virtual economic development trip southward, starting in Milwaukee County. Pat O'Brien is the director of the Milwaukee 7, an economic development organization that takes in the seven southeastern most counties in Wisconsin. He’ll also be part of our Project Milwaukee: Southern Connections panel discussion in Racine Wednesday night. That discussion will air on Lake Effect Weekend, Saturday and Sunday afternoon on WUWM.

In the last decade, Racine has worked hard to change its economic reputation and reach out to create regional partnerships to encourage development. Gordy Kacala is the Executive Director of the Racine County Economic Development Corporation - he's held this position for 21 years. He previously served as the Chief of the Economic Development Planning Division of the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission for 10 years. He spoke with Stephanie Lecci as part of our Project Milwaukee: Southern Connections series.

Our Project Milwaukee: Southern Connections series begins with a historical perspective on development from Milwaukee southward to the Illinois border. John Gurda is the author of nineteen books, including The Making of Milwaukee and Cream City Chronicles. He’s also our regular history contributor. He joined us to talk about the history of Kenosha and Racine.

In Project Milwaukee: Southern Connections, we look at why Chicago might need Milwaukee more than we would think. Bill Testa is Senior Economist, Vice President and Director of Regional Programs at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He spoke with WUWM's Marge Pitrof.

There’s more of the interview in the supplemental audio section below.

As we explore southward growth in our Project Milwaukee: Southern Connections series, what’s at stake for Milwaukee County? Chris Abele is the Milwaukee County Executive. He was elected in April to fill out the last year of the term vacated by now Governor Scott Walker.

Economic development planners insist regions, not just cities, are becoming the leaders of the global marketplace, so southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois would be wise to capitalize on their proximity and combined strengths.

An international group specializing in regional economic development is going to examine the corridor along southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois and recommend ways we might strengthen our region globally.