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Community Leaders Call on State, City to Invest in Milwaukee's Central City

Marti Mikkelson
State Rep. LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee spoke at a rally Tuesday near Sherman Park.

Elected officials and community activists gathered in Milwaukee on Tuesday to criticize Gov. Walker’s job creation agency. They insist it has not done enough to fuel economic development in the Sherman Park neighborhood. 

Violence broke out there this month, after an officer fatally shot a man who police say was armed and fleeing a traffic stop. But, activists did not limit their criticism to just the state.

The signs community leaders held up – close to where riots erupted in Milwaukee this month - read Zero Jobs and Economic Fraud at WEDC. Organizer Robert Kraig blastedWEDC, the public-private job creation agency Gov. Walker formed after taking office in 2011. He is the executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

Kraig says WEDC reports that it created hundreds of jobs in the Sherman Park area, but he doesn’t see any evidence.

“They have an impact map that they claim to have created 483 jobs in the Sherman Park area and in the three assembly districts that intersect this neighborhood. We looked and we’re right near one of the impact points. There are no jobs here. There are no new factories here,” he says.

Kraig called on WEDC to come up with a plan that would infuse hundreds of jobs into the area.

State Rep. LaTonya Johnson’s district covers Sherman Park and other parts of Milwaukee’s central city. She accuses WEDC of investing more money in the suburbs than in Milwaukee.

“WEDC needs to provide support to companies and businesses centered in and around the inner city of Milwaukee. The people who live here deserve good paying jobs and they also deserve the opportunity to have their workplace accessible within their community. Most important, the hard working men, women and adolescents in this city deserve the same opportunities as many of our suburban Wisconsinites have grown accustomed to,” Johnson says.

While some at the rally demanded that the state help bring jobs to struggling Milwaukee neighborhoods, others demanded that city leaders take more action. Rev. Willie Briscoe believes city hall focuses too much on downtown development.

“We want to see one-third of the emphasis pointed downtown to be put in the inner city, one-third of the emphasis in the Third Ward to be on the inner city, one-third of the emphasis on the lakefront to be placed in the inner city, then you will see some improvement,” Briscoe says.

At least one businessman attended the gathering. George Harrell is a landlord who’s lived in the area his entire life. Harrell says he currently employs about ten people to maintain his properties.

“I bought a lot of dilapidated homes, put new roofs, windows, siding, we really stuck money into these properties fixed them up, my tenants love me,” he says.

While Harrell says his tenants love him, he accuses the city of making it difficult for him to stay in business.

“Milwaukee overtaxes people. It’s hard, I tried to open up a couple of small businesses myself and Milwaukee was just so brutal on me and how I proceeded. I had food trucks, I had ice cream trucks, I had a number in which I employed people, and Milwaukee made it impossible for me to continue to operate,” Harrell says.

Harrell says eventually he shut down the food trucks. Now, he’s thinking of selling off a large number of properties and moving his business to the suburbs, where he says the business climate is friendlier.

WEDC issued a statement on Tuesday calling the accusations against it false and misleading. The agency says it has committed nearly $250 million to the city of Milwaukee since 2011.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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