City leaders discuss aerotropolitan development

TransportationFollowing a busier than ever Thanksgiving weekend and a record-setting month of October, government officials are turning their attention to General Mitchell International Airport, as they explore ways the hub could foster economic growth in the Milwaukee area.

Ald. Terry Witkowski and other city and county representatives met Tuesday at the Port of Milwaukee offices, 2323 S. Lincoln Memorial Dr., designed to start moving Milwaukee toward the development of an “aerotropolis” in southeastern Wisconsin. Present at the meeting were officials from the airport, the Port of Milwaukee and Gateway to Milwaukee, a group focused on developing the area around the airport.

An “aerotropolis” is a clustering of aviation-related business development around an airport, explains John Karsada, a professor of management at the University of North Carolina, on his Web site. Such development allows for greater efficiency in importing and exporting goods, resulting in economic growth.

“Everything you’d find in a traditional downtown would be found within 15 minutes of the airport,” Witkowski said in a phone interview.

Tom Rave, the executive director for Gateway to Milwaukee, said in a phone interview that the development of the airport is important because future commerce will revolve around air transportation.

Witkowski has organized an Airport Area Economic Development Task Force, which includes representatives from several municipalities that surround the airport, including Cudahy, St. Francis, Oak Creek and the city of Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee area has certain physical advantages, such as the proximity of Mitchell International, the Port of Milwaukee and rail stations, which all make the city a good candidate for development of an aerotropolis, Rave said. The purpose of the task force is to find a way to package these assets and sell them to businesses that are looking for a place to settle, he said.

“We’re trying to move Milwaukee into the global economy a little better,” Witkowski said.

Another goal for those at the meeting was to come up with a plan for an intermodal area that would serve as a “one-stop shopping” point for businesses, Witkowski said.

Such an area would also make shipping more effective because the travel distance between seaports and airports would be much shorter, which would also appeal to businesses because they are looking to get their products to certain places on time at the lowest cost possible, Rave said.

Aerotropolitan development would also help create much-needed jobs in southeastern Wisconsin and help positively project Milwaukee to the national and global business community. Different organizations such as the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and the Milwaukee 7, a regional economic development group, have tried various strategies to improve Milwaukee’s image, but there hasn’t been sufficient coordination between those groups, Witkowski said.

“We have great things here and people just don’t know about them,” he said.

The Tuesday meeting was the first time representatives from the organizations present have met to discuss the future of transportation in the region, Rave said.

The next step in developing an aerotropolis is getting endorsements from the municipalities that would be involved in such development, Rave said.