Case Study

Are we ready for the future?

Kenosha, Wisconsin


The Challenge

Kenosha has had a lot of wins in the last decade, specifically, new jobs and capital investment along the I-94 corridor. Impressive for a community sandwiched in between two urban areas (Chicago and Milwaukee, WI). Kenosha, however, still faces a number of headwinds—an all too common refrain from smaller towns in the middle U.S. College-trained talent was heading for urban markets for greater pay and big-city amenities. The community’s decline in traditional manufacturing over the last thirty years was also palpable. A shuttered Chrysler site at the center of town had been razed to remove any historical reference. Community leaders expressed repeated concern over the lack of connectivity to other parts of town that offered greater job and training opportunities. Last but not least, existing jobs in warehousing and manufacturing faced the threat of automation. It was time to develop a plan.

The Ask

The Mayor of Kenosha knew the time was right for Kenosha to think boldly about the redevelopment of the Chrysler site, a 107-acre site one mile from Lake Michigan. With a number of successful development projects under his belt and turning tides on how Southeastern Wisconsin thought about technology and innovation, he set out to articulate then build support for what would propel Kenosha for the next twenty to thirty years. He commissioned Waymaker Group to do an innovation asset inventory and to forge strategic partnerships with key technology stakeholders, educational institutions and headquarter companies. He was looking also for ways to articulate why and how Kenosha could take the next big leap—just as other projects in the Midwest had done before. Perhaps most importantly, his objective was to promote when the time was right, that Kenosha was ready for success in innovation and technology.

The Approach

1. Assess market strengths.

Waymaker Group set out to first understand Kenosha’s state of the state. Not surprisingly, three industries led in economic impact: manufacturing, warehousing/distribution and healthcare. We also uncovered other attributes: Kenosha was home to three outstanding local colleges, each with strong industry partnerships and STEM programs; a large number of STEM workers lived in the area but commuted to Illinois; and finally, that Kenosha was geographically within a 100-mile radius of billions in annual life sciences research and development.

2. Prioritize strategic partnerships.

 Waymaker Group forged new strategic alliances with research institutions in Wisconsin, corporate headquarters looking to expand and regional colleges with strong STEM programs. With the right amalgam of players, would any or all of them be interested in becoming part of Kenosha’s bridge to the future?

3. Reposition for talent.

Knowing that Kenosha could begin to play an important geographic role within a larger strategic growth plan, Waymaker integrated the projected futures within each of these industries with critical industry insight and direction. With an equal number of educational visionaries and corporate representatives, our team hosted several conversations about what was possible, pushed to crystalize their visions for the future, and began to determine who might initially participate on-site.

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“Waymaker is uniquely qualified in pulling together business, higher education/research universities, government, financing and developers for creating the build-out of the City of Kenosha’s innovation center (district). The organization’s leadership is superbly qualified and networked in the innovation development space ensuring that our partners and we will be successful in developing a deliberate innovation ecosystem.”

~Randy Hernandez, City Administrator, City of Kenosha

“Waymaker’s depth in technology and innovation economies has guided Kenosha in developing a new value proposition to initiate a deliberate approach to build a special technology community never before considered. We enjoy working with their talented team and trust that they will continue to help us optimize progressive economic opportunities.”

~Heather Wessling, Vice President, Kenosha Area Business Alliance

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