The Milwaukee 7 region has been selected to join the Global Cities Initiative’s Exchange, a network that aims to increase global trade and economic competitiveness. This prestigious designation comes with guidance from the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C. The Global Cities Initiative is a joint project of Brookings and JPMorgan Chase, which has been helping companies expand globally for decades.

“With 95 percent of global consumers living outside the U.S., our big market opportunity is overseas,” says Bill Burnett, a Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) executive on loan to the Milwaukee 7 Economic Development Partnership (M7). “For the past 10 years at least, economic growth in each of our seven counties has been driven by exports. It is a strategic imperative for the economic wellbeing of our region that we continue to grow exports and leverage the manufacturing prowess of our largest industries.”

In the M7 region, exporting is now the greatest single driver of economic growth. In three of the seven counties (Kenosha, Milwaukee and Racine) since 2009, exports accounted for more than 100 percent of growth in economic output, and because of Milwaukee county’s size relative to the others, export growth exceeded total output growth for the region—meaning that without exports, the economy would have contracted. The Global Cities Initiative’s Exchange is motivated in part by President Obama’s challenge to double U.S. exports in the next five years. Metropolitan areas have led export growth to date, but are still not fulfilling their potential, according to the Export Nation 2013 report from Brookings. The Global Cities Initiative’s Exchange network members receive the research and training they need to help companies in their region contribute to meeting the President’s ambitious goal.

The Global Cities Initiative is a five-year project currently in its second year. Milwaukee joins Atlanta; Greenville, S.C.; Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Fla.; Phoenix; Sacramento; and Wichita in the Exchange’s 2013 class. These eight communities are part of a larger group of 21 metro areas involved in the Exchange’s export and foreign direct investment planning efforts. Members of the Exchange benefit from coaching by the team at Brookings, and from active exchange of information with other member communities to learn from each other’s experiences and ideas.

Before being chosen to participate, communities are expected to demonstrate that their regional economic objectives, strategies and timing make this an opportune moment to pursue development of a metro export plan; that sufficient institutional and individual capacity is identified and available to carry out a successful planning process; and there is a clear and meaningful involvement of metro area leaders in the export planning process.

M7’s partners in representing the Milwaukee region in the Exchange include WMEP, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s World Trade Association and the U.S. Export Assistance Center in Milwaukee.

In the first year of their participation, each community conducts an export market assessment and develops a regional export plan that is unique to the economy, industry clusters and export capabilities in their community. Once those plans are complete, communities develop foreign direct investment plans.

The Milwaukee region’s export plan is expected to be completed by December 2014. Thus far, Milwaukee’s delegation has participated in two workshops with Brookings and conducted a market assessment that included surveys of more than 200 companies in the region, and interviews and focus groups with dozens of companies and export service providers, with the help and support of economic development organizations and others in each of the seven counties that make up the M7 region.

In June, representatives from Brookings were in Milwaukee to publicly announce the initiative and to share the findings of the local export market assessment along with the M7. The findings were shared at an event attended by more than 60 regional private-sector business leaders and at the quarterly M7 Council meeting, which was attended by nearly 200 business, economic development and thought leaders from the region.

Once the export plan is complete, it will ease the path for entry into exporting for companies in the region, says WEDC export development manager Brad Schneider. “We find that there’s so much information out there that it’s difficult to know where to start,” he says. “The intent for the plan is that it would provide companies with an on ramp—a place to go where they know they can get the answers they need in a quick fashion.”

The report itself will be freely available, and although it will be specific to the Milwaukee region, other parts of the state will be able to learn from the exporting best practices it describes, and apply the methodology in their own areas.

Aside from the official report, the collaboration facilitated by the Global Cities Initiative’s Exchange will have lasting effects, says Schneider. “Because we have buy-in from civic leaders, when they’re conducting local meetings, exports will be part of the discussion. Mayors will be thinking and talking about exporting.”

In addition to being accepted into the Global Cities Initiative’s Exchange, the Milwaukee region was among 12 areas that received the federal government’s Manufacturing Community designation earlier this year. These communities receive preferential consideration when competing for federal economic development grant funding. “This designation not only gives us an opportunity to leverage our local resources with federal funding; it’s also national recognition that our efforts to date are considered a best practice and are having an impact,” says Pat O’Brien, president of the M7. “The Global Cities Initiative’s Exchange and the Manufacturing Community designation give the M7, working with WEDC and local partners, more opportunities to accelerate the pace of growth.”

The M7 Economic Development Partnership, launched in September 2005, was formed to create a regional, cooperative economic development platform for the seven counties of southeastern Wisconsin. Its goal is to develop into a globally integrated region, rich in international business capabilities, with businesses fluent in global markets and global business initiatives deeply embedded in their core operating plans for growth. By growing and leveraging the international marketplace, the organization seeks to improve the lives of the people living in the M7 region through a more robust and sustainable economy.

As part of its data gathering for the Global Cities Initiative’s Exchange, M7 is seeking input from company leaders through a brief online survey.

(August 2014)