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Why We Do What We Do

Brian Schupper, Greater Milwaukee Committee Director of Policy and Scale Up Milwaukee team member, reflects on the recent events in Baltimore, the similarities to Milwaukee and the role Scale Up Milwaukee might play in addressing the challenges the cities face. This note was initially circulated internally but bears sharing with the Scale Up Milwaukee community.

Yesterday I sent a Scale Up Milwaukee update that was celebratory in tone. And we have much to celebrate. I am usually reticent to send another email update so soon; however I think this provides some depth to our accomplishments and collective vision. I appreciate your taking a few minutes to read it and especially appreciate your partnership in all that we do to make Milwaukee an extraordinary place.

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Sadly, It’s Personal

Like many of you, I have watched with anguish as Baltimore has seemingly become unglued during these difficult days. Wearing my Scale Up Milwaukee lens, I’m beginning to look at it with a different perspective.

While I don’t intend to speak for my Scale Up Milwaukee colleague and friend Elmer Moore, he and I both have strong connections to Baltimore, his much deeper than mine. Elmer grew up there, has family still there and, in fact, many of those family members have served with dignity and a lifetime of accomplishment in law enforcement. I did my undergraduate and graduate work in Baltimore. The scenes unfolding on television are very real to us, and it is difficult to see a place we care deeply about being torn apart.

And All Too Familiar

At the same time, there is a certain familiarity that is all too universal and frightening, extending beyond the borders of Baltimore. Over the last generation, places like Baltimore and Milwaukee have seen job losses that undermine so much of what makes a community, well, a community. Whether or not we agree or disagree on the causes – both immediate and root – of the current unrest, there can be no doubt that the economic and social impact of those job losses has played a key role in shaping today’s environment.

I would strongly encourage you to read this article by E.J. Dionne, republished today in the Journal Sentinel. It is one of the most insightful commentaries not only on Baltimore but on every city that has its share of underlying economic, social and race-related challenges (i.e. Milwaukee).

It Can Be Different for Milwaukee

Which brings us to Scale Up Milwaukee. I am under no illusion that Scale Up Milwaukee is the answer. But it is initiatives like ours that are part of the solution. In many of our conversations, we have described the goal of Scale Up Milwaukee as not simply to assist companies in their growth trajectories but to change the very culture of Milwaukee. In short, this initiative is intended to create channels of hope and inspiration through widespread economic growth that have far-reaching effects into the pocket books of many, many citizens.

Let’s create jobs, let’s create opportunity, let’s tell these stories and let’s emulate them. Along with many other critical activities, we not only lay the seeds to avoid our own version of what is unfolding in Baltimore but we have a chance to grow our way into something extraordinary.

If what is happening in Baltimore is a film, here’s a single snapshot of what we’re doing through Scale Up Milwaukee to write a different story. In today’s Journal Sentinel there is an article about Red Flag Cargo Security Systems. Red Flag was one of this year’s 15 Scalerator companies. We are delighted to see their growth discussed in the short article, and pleased to have helped contribute to it.  The key is that Red Flag is moving into Century City in order to accommodate its rapid growth.

The symbolism of helping revitalize what was once a center of manufacturing-related employment so critical to tens of thousands of Milwaukeeans is important. As is the real life implications – as companies like Red Flag grow they are restoring many of the job opportunities thought to be lost, and in the heart of neighborhoods whose residents have been most impacted by these tectonic shifts. As Scale Up Milwaukee itself scales up, we are impacting, directly or indirectly, hundreds of companies like Red Flag, collectively helping the broader revitalization.

Scale Up Milwaukee is just one piece of the puzzle. But when I read these two stories today alongside one another it crystallized for me why we do what we do.

Brian Schupper

Director of Policy, Greater Milwaukee Committee

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