MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The Milwaukee Common Council is set to vote Tuesday, February 10th on the proposed downtown Milwaukee streetcar project. One day ahead of that vote, Milwaukee-area business leaders came out in support of the project, believing a streetcar would do much more than move people around. This, as those opposed to the project continue to gather signatures in their ongoing petition drive.
Milwaukee business leaders made the case for supporting the streetcar at a news conference hosted at ManpowerGroup’s Headquarters in downtown Milwaukee. CEOs of some of Milwaukee’s most notable companies were joined by civic and nonprofit leaders urging the Milwaukee Common Council to take action to move the streetcar forward. It was perhaps the last chance for those who support the project to publicly show that support before the Common Council's vote on Tuesday.
“We support the proposed streetcar because it makes powerful economic sense as part of a larger growth strategy for Milwaukee that is already generating billions in new development and thousands of jobs for our community. The streetcar will connect the dots between these major new developments and provide the momentum to spark the next wave of economic development and job creation," Jeff Joerres, Executive Chairman of ManpowerGroup said.
Joerres is part of a broad coalition of business leaders that have come together in recent weeks to support the streetcar, including:
- Michael Cudahy
- Linda Gorens-Levey
- Gary Grunau, Schlitz Park
- Jeff Joerres of ManpowerGroup
- David Lubar, Lubar & Co.
- Barry Mandel, Mandel Group
- Greg Marcus, Marcus Corporation
- Alex Molinaroli, Johnson Controls
- Greg Wesley, Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan LLP
“Why should we invest in this project now? Because the streetcar, along with a host of very important investments in our community assets, presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move our city forward and make Milwaukee more attractive to new employers, workers, residents and tourists. We need to take advantage of all these opportunities," Greg Marcus, CEO of Marcus Corporation said.
The business leaders cited a number of other key reasons to support the streetcar, including its ability to attract and retain the next generation of talent who want to live in diverse, high-density areas served by modern mass transit. Right now, while Milwaukee is among the 30 cities with the highest density in the United States – it is one of only two without fixed transit.
“At ManpowerGroup, we know how important it is that Milwaukee find new ways to attract and retain the next generation of talent. The streetcar is a key infrastructure investment that will keep us competitive with our peer cities and make us more attractive to new businesses and new employees," Joerres said.
The streetcar is a reliable transit connection that has proven highly successful in other cities both larger and smaller than Milwaukee – and will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive transportation system. It will bring connectivity, not only downtown, but throughout the city, bringing together workers and jobs, students and educational institutions, retail stores and customers and connecting neighborhoods.
Jorge Franco, CEO / President of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin spoke to the importance of the streetcar in driving investment in the city, creating new opportunities for minority contractors and increasing employment among disadvantaged populations.
“We support more jobs, business growth and economic development for the entire City. The streetcar is a smart investment that will pay for itself many times over. We urge our elected officials to move the streetcar forward," Jorge Franco, CEO/President of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin said.
As this group of business leaders spoke in favor of the $123.9 million streetcar project, those opposed to the project continue to gather signatures as their petition drive continues. This past weekend, volunteers for Citizens for a Responsible Government, the group organizing the petition drive, canvassed the city looking for signatures that could force the Common Council to put the project to a vote.
"The bottom line is rail is completely inflexible. It is inherently unsafe and is exorbitantly more expansive than rubber tire alternatives," Chris Kliesmet with Citizens for a Responsible Government said.
Kliesmet says even if they don't get a petition against the streetcar in by Tuesday's Common Council vote, their fight isn't over.
"What this ordinance requires is a binding referendum before they can begin construction, which God knows, could be years down the line," Kliesmet said.
Kliesmet would argue if the streetcar idea was such a good one, local industry would not only speak up, but dedicate their own money to see it happen.
Even if the Common Council votes in favor of the project on Tuesday, Kliesmet says he's confident the legal system would allow them to continue their mission of bringing the issue to a referendum.
CLICK HERE to learn more about the proposed downtown Milwaukee streetcar project.
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