Sunday, December 11th, 2016

Is Milwaukee County open for business?

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For that matter, is Milwaukee County open to business? Will the County Board decide to delay a project in the Park East Corridor merely because the developer ran afoul of the SEIU, or will they see the bigger picture and move the project forward? This week for the MacIver Institute I looked at the issue and spoke with Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele about the situation.

Is Milwaukee County open for business? Last week Milwaukee County’s Committee on Economic and Community Development voted 4-3 to delay for one month possible approval of the proposed first phase of the Park East Square apartment development in the Park East corridor. The committee is meeting again on Tuesday to revisit that decision and decide whether to recommend approval of the project to the whole county board.

For some of the committee members, the issue concerns one of the developers involved with the project and their treatment of a union janitorial service at one of their properties. Stewart Wangard is the lead developer on the first two phases of Park East Square. His firm, Wangard Partners Inc., replaced a union janitorial service with a company that does not have a contract with a union, a move that affected 12 employees.

This angered Service Employees International Union Local 1, which led to the vote for the delay in the committee. The vote to delay consideration of the project came despite support for the project from a number of other unions in the private sector. The janitorial service in question is at a property not part of the Park East corridor.

In a phone interview Monday afternoon, Milwaukee County Chris Abele expressed his frustration with the board. “Honestly, I was surprised. The good news is that the board heard the backlash.”

Abele was asked, if the vote goes the way he hopes on Tuesday, will the business community see this as a situation where only saints should consider doing business with the county, or if, in his words, “we can work with those guys.”

“I truly hope it is the latter. I’m truly hoping the business community see this as a blip.”

He added, “This was not our best foot forward.”

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