Milwaukee picked to lead new Midwest workforce group

Announcement news Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee has been picked to lead a new regional group focused on driving economic growth throughout the Midwest.

Employ Milwaukee will lead the Midwest Urban Strategies Consortium, a partnership featuring 12 workforce boards from major Midwestern cities. Other cities include Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit; Gary, Ind.; Indianapolis; Kansas City; Minneapolis; St. Louis; and Wichita, Kan.

“Milwaukee is leading this charge,” Earl Buford, the chief executive officer of Employ Milwaukee, said at a news conference Friday at Bader Philanthropies on Water St.

The new group will work to develop a regional approach to worker training, such as apprenticeship programs. It will work with the U.S. Department of Labor and private companies.

“To me, this isn’t about theory. This is about practice,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. “The growth in our downtown at the heart of our city has resulted in opportunities to develop talent, and our local workforce board, Employ Milwaukee, really has been at the forefront of those efforts in our market, and beyond.”

Employ Milwaukee serves as the lead agency for the coordination, planning and administration of employment and training services for youths and adults. It works in partnership with leaders from government, private industry, labor, education and community- and faith-based organizations.

The agency recently has been at the heart of a struggle between Barrett and County Executive Chris Abele over control of worker training efforts.

Ten years ago, then-Gov. Jim Doyle took control of the agency away from the county and gave it to Barrett. In late April, Abele wrote to Republican Gov. Scott Walker asking him to return it to the county.

Barrett on Friday said the announcement showed control should stay with the city.

“What you saw today underscores the argument that we were making all along, that not only is this workforce investment board good, it’s actually great,” Barrett said. “The fact that it is the leader in the Midwest, that it is setting the mark, tells you what a good job is being done by the current leadership.”

Barrett added, “I would hate for us to take a step backwards and have a different model that isn’t as progressive and aggressive and forward-thinking as the leadership that we have there right now.”

Abele has said state officials suggested the shift, but he backs the move.

“Even though we do have great people at Employ Milwaukee, when the unemployment rate for African American men in parts of the city has been over 50%, there is clearly much more work to be done to ensure economic opportunity for all,” Abele said in a statement. “That staggering figure doesn’t even account for the thousands of people who have completely given up on finding employment after years of searching.”

Abele added, “By returning to a more regional focus on workforce development, we can provide support for individuals who have specific barriers to getting and keeping a good-paying job.”

(Photo & Story by Mary Spicuzza)