In his State of the County address this week Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he is directing Brian Taffora, the county's director of economic development, to work with Milwaukee Department of City Development commissioner Richard "Rocky" Marcoux to form a Park East corridor advisory workgroup.
"This group, which I am announcing this morning, will draw on the expertise and perspective of local developers, commercial real estate professionals, business leaders, as well as county and city officials," Abele said. "Their sole focus will be understanding how we can creatively leverage the assets the city and the county have to create and implement a plan that will attract jobs and vitality to the Park East corridor."
City and county officials worked together in an attempt to convince Menomonee Falls-based Kohl's Corp. to build a new corporate headquarters in the Park East corridor. The city and county put together an incentive package worth more than $100 million for Kohl's. However, Kohl's recently said it is no longer considering downtown Milwaukee as a possible site for its future headquarters.
"We will collaborate and seek out any and all tools available to us," Abele said. "The package we put together for Kohl's is by far the biggest package the county has ever offered for any business. And that was our first try out of the gate. We were willing to give away the land – about $12 million worth, provide access to 1,000 discounted or free bus passes for a year, waive fees at our brownfield landfill for excavation of contaminated land, use our bonding to pay for the relocation of up to $5 million of public infrastructure, and provide a discounted hanger space at the airport, along with prominent signage there and elsewhere."
Abele pledged to remain aggressive in efforts to attract economic development and jobs to Milwaukee County.
"For an opportunity to attract net new jobs to the county at that scale, we will be aggressive," he said. "The tools we have to do it here are limited only by our creativity with what we control and our drive to get things done. When we do that in partnership with the city and the state, together we can be a driving a force for jobs. If the WEDC, the M7, or MMAC has a big opportunity, I will tell you right now that the county will be an enthusiastic partner. For a big opportunity like Kohl's, we will knock down mountains. And make no mistake; we don't plan on waiting for opportunities to just arrive in our laps. We want to make sure that we - all of the entities who share an interest in growing the economy in Milwaukee – are always actively targeting the industries that are most complementary to our strengths and that we grow our reputation as a place where businesses seek to locate. We don't need to ‘own' that process, but we will make sure that it is always being owned by someone. Confidentiality, creativity, flexibility. Get used to it, there will be more."
However, Milwaukee County Supervisor Michael Mayo Sr. criticized Abele saying the county executive needs to work with the County Board to achieve his goals.
"It's amazing that the county executive would give the entire kitchen sink to Kohl's," Mayo said. "Make no mistake; we are looking to bring jobs to the Park East, but how can you give away something that we don't really have to give? Giving Kohl's $5 million of infrastructure improvements at no charge would exceed our bonding cap and add to Milwaukee County's debt load. We have a struggling transit system, but the county executive wanted to give away free bus passes to Kohl's employees. I invite the county executive to work more closely with the board on economic development so we can develop creative ideas together."