The Wisconsin Policy Forum, a widely respected nonpartisan research organization, is going digital with its analysis of Milwaukee’s progress toward a knowledge-based economy.
The forum on Thursday will unlock the new Metro Milwaukee Innovation DataTool on its website, providing an easily accessed snapshot of how the area is doing on a group of key economic indicators.
The upshot: Not bad on the quality of our workforce, middling to poor on most everything else. More on that later.
The forum has gathered this sort of data before, benchmarking Milwaukee against several metropolitan areas the group deemed peers, along with a couple of leaders. That information got packaged in two reports, one published in 2010 and the other in 2017.
But the appetite for 40-page reports is waning, forum president Rob Henken said.
“We’re making a concerted effort, when appropriate, to turn more of our research and analysis into interactive web-based format,” he said.
That approach, Henken said, provides concise analysis and allows “consumers of this information to really be able to come up with some conclusions on their own and see the data first-hand.”
Another benefit to using an online platform: It’s easier to keep the data up to date.
“Things evolve very quickly and so clearly with regard to these indicators we think it’s going to be important to at least try to update every other year,” Henken said
The format also allows easy addition of indicators, said Joe Peterangelo, senior researcher with the forum. He expects to add new data next year on the number of students coming through area colleges and universities, particularly in science, technical, engineering and math programs.
Whatever the format, information like that presented in the Innovation DataTool helps show how the area is doing “in terms of continuing what I think most would agree is a necessary transformation to a knowledge-based economy,” Henken said.
Toward that end, the DataTool offers measurements of such indicators as business formation, patent filings, venture funding and the presence of scientists and engineers in the workforce.
Workforce quality, as measured by the percentages represented by tech talent and employment in occupations typically requiring at least a bachelor’s degree, is a strength of metropolitan Milwaukee, Henken said.
“Our weaknesses tend to be in the entrepreneurial realm, the startup realm, the minority-owned business realm,” he said.
From 2005 through 2016, for example, the number of small businesses with 10 to 99 employees fell 2.5% in Milwaukee. The number of “micro” businesses (one to nine employees) dropped by 6.0%.
That was among the poorest showings of the 11 metropolitan areas the forum studied. Only Cleveland fared worse. Almost all the other areas showed growth in small businesses, and six of the 11 saw growth in micro firms.
Similarly, Milwaukee had the second-lowest rate of minority business ownership, and the third-lowest amount of venture capital investment per resident.
Besides Cleveland, the other metro areas studied in the DataTool are Indianapolis; Cincinnati; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Kansas City; Pittsburgh; Buffalo, New York; and Oklahoma City — all described as sharing many of Milwaukee’s characteristics — as well as two places often identified as innovation leaders: Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon.
Milwaukee ranks second in percentage of knowledge workers, but is closely grouped with at least three other metro areas and is well behind the clear leader, Minneapolis-St. Paul.
On percentage of both tech workers and scientists and engineers, Milwaukee ranks fourth.
The data also suggest that Milwaukee’s rebound from the recession has been weak.
The change in total employment here from 2005 to 2018 was just 3.5%, according to the forum. That trailed every city but Cleveland. Meanwhile, employment grew by 7.6% in Cincinnati, 10.9% in Minneapolis-St. Paul, 12.7% in Kansas City and 15.3% in Indianapolis.
During the same period, “health care and social assistance” eclipsed manufacturing in employment in metropolitan Milwaukee, the data show.
In 2005, the area had 22,000 more manufacturing workers than it did workers in health care and social assistance. But manufacturing jobs continued to erode in the following years and by 2018 the ratio had virtually reversed, with employment in health care and social assistance outnumbering manufacturing by 20,000.