Case Study

Jumpstarting a New Regional Narrative

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


The Challenge

Milwaukee is home to a number of Fortune 500 headquarters and twenty-five higher educational institutions—most of which have engineering and/or nationally-recognized STEM programs. The city itself sits beautifully on the banks of Lake Michigan and is a little more than an hour’s drive away from the urban and cultural amenities of Chicago. So why does everyone outside the market think that Milwaukee is in Minnesota and affiliate the market exclusively with beer and cheese — and why are headquarter companies having so much trouble recruiting tech talent? One of the answers was the region’s cultural reticence to evolve its brand image, or intentionally invest in tech-centric opportunities for next generation employees. Understandable for a city whose economic roots in industrial manufacturing trace back 175 years.

The Ask

The phone call to Waymaker came just before the public announcement of the arrival of Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturing conglomerate. If headquarter companies were having trouble now with retaining and recruiting talent, what would it look like when one of the largest suppliers for Apple came into the market and hired thousands? Could Milwaukee really evolve into becoming a competitive tech hub? Waymaker took on both challenges and set off to help the market reposition itself internally and externally and to convince the region that Milwaukee was already competitive as a mid-sized tech market.

The Approach

wmg icons assess market strengths

1. Assess market strengths.

Waymaker spent the first 60 days meeting with regional stakeholders: entrepreneurs, corporate executives, investors, elected officials and education leaders. The city had a number of enviable assets: willing public economic development leaders seeking more connectivity and direction from industry, an amazing lifestyle on one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes, an eager albeit nascent startup scene, but most critically, a pipeline for incredible tech talent.

2. Quantify the impact.

Milwaukee’s biggest employers were enjoying plenty of growth in digital and technology occupations. Some had opened tech offices on the west coast to draft off of innovation and talent efficiencies there. Others had expanded global offices to leverage tech talent supply. Using employer input to customize a list of standard technology occupations, Waymaker worked with Milwaukee’s top 30 employees to customize the definition of tech for the market, therefore counting $26.6B in tech impact annually.

3. Reposition for talent.

The silent contract historically has been that public economic development work is so different and separate from private industry, the private sector has no role in influencing or contributing to economic development efforts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Waymaker used Milwaukee’s new $26.6B tech reality to bring public and private leaders together. CEOs of the region’s largest companies gathered with the Mayor to announce that Milwaukee was already a tech hub. The question now was, how do we act like one?

4. Develop a bold plan.

Waymaker developed a number of strategic and fundraising plans for corporate leaders, careful to integrate the region’s new considerations and direct exposure to global talent competition. C-suite leaders were provided a roadmap for fundraising for a regional coalition, and some initial thoughts on direction and purpose (ultimately this is defined by industry leaders). Director-level leaders were provided operational roadmaps and recommendations for galvanizing the entrepreneurial community.

5. Create a coalition.

Understanding the technical (talent and otherwise) needs of a market takes investment and consistent dialogue. For the last forty years, tech coalitions have been a vehicle for tech leaders to share information, articulate resource needs and to collaborate on private-public solutions that lift the entire region. Waymaker provided the strategic plan for Milwaukee to create its own tech coalition, including board leader, fundraising and operational recommendations.

The Impact

Transforming Milwaukee’s economy requires a cohesive, connected plan of action and Waymaker provided just that. Milwaukee has numerous assets available, but an organized, consolidated effort to drive the local economy in the right direction was needed now more than ever. With Waymaker’s roadmap in place, Milwaukee has reached milestones as we kick off 2020, securing funding and leadership for their new tech coalition. Milwaukee is on its way to enjoying new prosperity and regional growth by leveraging its talent pipeline and vision for the future.

Oct. 4, 2019

Six area companies launch MKE Tech Hub Coalition with $5 million.

Jan. 22, 2020

MKE Tech Hub Coalition appoints Chief Executive Officer

Jan. 28, 2020

WE Energies, community partners join MKE Tech Hub Coalition

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“Waymaker’s foresight and expertise helped our biggest stakeholders get comfortable about creating a tech coalition. They helped us understand the importance of marrying the grassroots efforts of entrepreneurs with the innovation endeavors of key employers and set us up for long-term success.”

~Tim Schaefer, Strategic Technology Advisor

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