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Mayor Barrett backing city subsidies for Milwaukee Tool's downtown office building

Posted at 4:50 PM, Apr 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-23 18:46:31-04

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is throwing his support behind a resolution that would give city subsidies for Milwaukee Tool's proposed 1,200-employee downtown office.

In a statement Friday, Mayor Barrett urged Milwaukee Common Council members to approve a resolution that would provide $12.1 million in grant money for the project.

Milwaukee Tool says the new $30 million office building would provide 1,200 jobs and would act as a welcomed stimulus to the downtown area's west side. The manufacturing company left the city for the suburbs in the 1960s, but now wants to return to an increasingly bustling downtown area.

Barrett said that it would be a "serious mistake" for the Council to reject the grants, writing that the company's growth requires office space as soon as possible - and that the company may select a location outside the city if the current proposal is not approved.

"The negative impact of Milwaukee Tool’s departure would be compounded. Right or wrong, the message others in the business community would hear is that Milwaukee is a difficult place to grow. Potentially, that will discourage others from choosing our city, and that would be harmful to everyone here in Milwaukee," Barrett writes.

In his letter, the mayor notes a number of ways the new office would benefit the local business area as well as minority communities in the city.

Barrett argues that the 1,200 mostly white-collar jobs the office would bring would be felt in nearby restaurants and offices. And Tool may hire beyond that number, the mayor hopes.

Barrett also cites Milwaukee Tool's participation in the MMAC Region of Choice initiative, which the mayor says aims to increase overall minority employment 15 percent by 2025 and to increase minorities in management by 25 percent by 2025.

MMAC President Tim Sheehy previously said the new office would create 1,449 indirect jobs beyond the Milwaukee Tool jobs, citing an analysis by accounting and consulting firm Baker Tilly. The firm also found 80 percent of the office's impact would occur within the city.

That presence could lead to an annual economic impact of $935 million, according to the firm.

"This is not about shifting jobs from one place in Milwaukee to another," Sheehy told TMJ4's Charles Benson last month. "These are about 1,200 new jobs in a building they are going to make a significant investment in, and you really couldn't ask for a better story."

Tool announced in late March plans to build the office at Fifth and Michigan, in the former Assurant Health office building.

There are other developments happening this week, the Milwaukee Business Journal reports. CEOs of downtown Milwaukee businesses sent a letter to the Common Council Thursday expressing their support for the project and city funding for it. Meanwhile, the labor organization trying to change the grant agreement and Ald. Bob Bauman continue to oppose the project. The BizJournal reports their efforts could derail the plan.

The Tool office could further be a healthy replacement after a number of other businesses left the area in recent years, Mayor Barrett argues.

"In Milwaukee’s recent history, this part of Westown has seen the departure of major employers such as Blue Cross, Assurant, and Boston Store. What Milwaukee Tool offers is a shot in the arm for this part of downtown allowing this area to start to achieve the potential we know it has," Barrett writes.

The Milwaukee Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee is set to review the grant proposal on April 27.

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