Milwaukee to apply for 'manufacturing communities' designation
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI), 2014-02-17
Feb. 17--The City of Milwaukee will apply for designation as one of 12 "manufacturing communities" under a new federal program that would give those 12 cities preferential consideration for up to $1.3 billion in grants from 10 federal agencies.
The program, called the Manufacturing Communities Partnership, was launched last year by the administration of President Barack Obama, with applications due in mid-March. The program ranks among Obama's top manufacturing policies.
According to the U.S. government website for the initiative, the program is meant to "help accelerate the resurgence of manufacturing in regions across the country."
It makes sense that Milwaukee applies. Among U.S. metro areas with a minimum of a half million non-farm jobs, metro Milwaukee consistently shows up with the second highest share of its workforce in manufacturing, behind San Jose, Calif. Wisconsin, meanwhile, vies with Indiana in leading the nation in the share of its workforce in manufacturing.
"If any city deserves this designation, Milwaukee does," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. "We are a center of manufacturing. It's in our DNA."
Since Obama's 2008 election, activists for manufacturing policy had expected Obama to show sensitivity to the manufacturing sector and the large swath of the American middle class that goes with it.
The five states that rely most on manufacturing for their employment are all in the Midwest: Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Iowa. Nearly all voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012 -- as did neighboring Illinois and Minnesota -- with the sole exception of Indiana, which was a blue state in 2008 but a red state in 2012.
Milwaukee failed to make the cut in a preliminary round of applications in the same program last year, when the Obama administration handed out $200,000 planning grants to 44 cities. That Phase 1 application, meant to help cities assemble their arguments for the 12-city Phase 2 application, was rejected for lack of focus, said Alan Perlstein, director of the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium nonprofit industry group, who helped draft the first application.
Crucial in any manufacturing hub of the future will be developing factory workers with tech skills, said Mike Laszkiewicz, a Rockwell Automation Inc. executive and chair of the U.S. Department of Commerce Manufacturing Council.
"Manufacturing's success hinges on having a highly skilled production workforce that supports the advanced technologies that are essential to modern manufacturing competitiveness," Laszkiewicz said.
Barrett spokesman Jeff Fleming said other organizations are helping draft this year's application, including the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the Water Council trade group and the Milwaukee 7 economic development agency.
"Even if we win, there's no automatic funding," although the 12 cities will receive preferential consideration for grants to support the manufacturing economy, Fleming said.
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