Why Milwaukee wasn't prime enough for Amazon...

Gene's Blog: Why isn't Milwaukee "Amazon Prime"?

Amazon did nothing to help Milwaukee's alleged inferiority complex this past week.

We didn't make the short list of cities the digital retailer is considering for its second major headquarters. Neither did some 200 other places but still, it hurts, especially when you consider some of the other Midwest towns that made the cut, including Indianapolis. and Columbus, Ohio.

Columbus? Really? Ouch.

Some dismiss this dis by claiming Milwaukee never had a chance from the get-go, that our candidacy was a joke and that Amazon would consider it as such. Others take it as an insult. No matter what, it's a chance to do some municipal soul-searching and good old fashioned accountability top find out which boxes didn't get checked in the "Milwaukee" column.

One of them is an "active transit network," says UrbanMilwaukee.com's Jeramey Jannene who joined us Friday, January 19 on Wisconsin's Morning News (our chat with him starts at the 22:00 mark, or so).

Amazon, he says, wanted the type of rail and other systems its campus in Seattle already uses to get workers in and out. Cities lacking such, but promising to add them later got cut, he says. Milwaukee's M-7 group pitched sites in Waukesha and Kenosha, but Jannene points out that we lack the means to deliver workers to those locations. M-7 also proposed downtown Milwaukee which has urban transit alternatives--busses and a small light rail system--but it apparently not enough suitable locations.

Jannene is encouraged by our regional approach to Amazon's HQ2, a technique he says worked well for us when it came time to beat out others for the huge Foxconn plant that's supposed to go up in Mount Pleasant. And, he thinks we need to do same when it comes to fixing the area's transit needs.

"I suspect the transit issue will continue to grow as we move closer and closer to full employment," Jannene says. "A number of organizations are projecting worker shortages out into the future, so that when we look at things like the Amazon facility way down in Kenosha or when we look at Foxconn, or when we look at service industry jobs in Waukesha County and a lot of industrial jobs in New Berlin, we need to be thinking about how we can connect people to those jobs, especially when it's harder and harder to find people."

It's one thing to try and fail. It's another not to learn from the setback. We won't be home to Amazon's HQ2. That's a fact. So is the need for workers to be able to find existing jobs--they're out there--as well as a way to connect those folks to where they are, and to get them back home at night. We need to address it now, to keep existing employers and in the future when the next "prime" opportunity comes along, be it from Amazon or someone else.

We've socked millions into re-doing a freeway system that's hard-pressed to keep up with volume, no matter how many tunnels we dig or lanes get added. There's an entire population that can't drive or doesn't want the commuting hassle. Other major cities are acknowledging that, and employers are demanding it as they look for places to grow.

Milwaukee and the surrounding region have to get collective arms around the issue, too, if we want to not just keep what we have but to also stay as "prime" as a lot of us think we already are.

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