State of the Cities Recap

Cooperation was the operative word at today’s “State of the Cities” event that was organized by the South Suburban Chamber of Commerce for the Cities of Oak Creek and Franklin, WI.  Leaders from these communities presented their vision for economic development and discussed opportunities for working together in a session moderated by BizTimes Executive Editor Steve Jagler.

The event was hosted by Wheaton Franciscan Franklin Hospital, and the site was apt as the sprawling campus is located on the Franklin side of S. 27th St. and looms over Oak Creek, just across the street.  This site, along with Northwestern Mutual’s campus to the north on S. 27th St., highlights the fact that no municipal unit can ignore its neighbors and when it comes to economic development, cooperation is key.  Franklin Administrator Mark Luberda filled in for Mayor Steve Olson for the first half of the event and discussed that City’s plans for hiring a new City Engineer and Economic Development Director before the end of the year.  Luberda also hinted to a major project in the works, and while he couldn’t comment on specifics, he indicated that it could be a sizable development.  The highlight from Franklin is that City’s sparkling fiscal performance, bond rating, and future development potential but tangible bricks and mortar projects were clearly lacking from the presentation.  Contrasted with Mayor Steve Scaffidi’s presentation for Oak Creek, Franklin appears much more like the residential suburb it has long been.

The comparison may not be fair, as any community this side of Pleasant Prairie, including the City of Milwaukee, lags behind Oak Creek’s breakneck development pace. Projects such as the Drexel Town Square, Lake Vista development,  Oakview Business Park, and the Liberty Trust industrial park demonstrate the high demand for commercial, residential and industrial development in the area.  Furthermore, companies expanding in Oak Creek such as Joy Global, Stella and Chewy’s, Suzy’s Cheesecake, Meijer, Four Points by Sheraton, and the Water Street Brewery far outpaces growth elsewhere.  Despite all of this progress, what’s most impressive about Oak Creek’s story is the attitude of its leaders and the clear intent to establish a vision of what Oak Creek can be in the future.  Oak Creek’s success in this endeavor could change the perception of what it means to be a suburban community.  Creating density and walkability on vacant land and balancing this with the traditional expectations of suburban residents takes skill and tact, and the team behind this has gone all in.  Savage Solutions’ Cory Savage, WisPark’s Jerry Franke, and Director of Community Development Doug Seymour were all in support of this approach and it is hard to not be swept up in their enthusiasm.

Today’s event was a checkpoint to show where these two cities are today.  In the future, Oak Creek may develop into a vibrant industrial and commercial hub while Franklin may maintain its primarily residential character that houses much of the Oak Creek workforce.  Or perhaps Franklin will continue to attract large corporate headquarters and Oak Creek may provide the supply chain that makes Franklin locations attractive.  More likely it will be a combination of both but what is certain is that S. 27th St. has become less of a border as these two cities grow together.