Viewpoints: Milwaukee’s most valuable resource today, and in the future

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Source: Biz Times Milwaukee

When it comes to Mother Nature’s most valuable resources, the only thing more essential than freshwater is air. Humans can’t live without water for more than three days, but that is just the beginning of its importance to our homes, communities and businesses.

We’re already seeing the impact of too little water in the Western states, but too much water can also cause disaster. We recently saw the impact of torrential rains on our community, and even worse is the destructive force of hurricanes and rising sea levels on the East Coast.

At The Water Council, we believe Milwaukee’s abundant and relatively stable access to freshwater is its most valuable resource today and in the future. That’s why the headline in the recent BizTimes’ article “Time is now for Milwaukee to ready itself as a climate haven, experts say” was spot on. The Water Council and our partners are already working to prepare the community, with several exciting opportunities on the horizon. We can do more and do it better so that we are a global magnet for talent and water solutions.

Our connection to Lake Michigan is valuable not just for the water itself but for the economy that has grown up around it. The Water Council was founded in 2009 in recognition of the density of water technology companies in southeastern Wisconsin, including A. O. Smith Corp., Badger Meter, InSinkErator and Kohler Co. 

The growing water crises around the world present additional opportunity for water innovators, and Milwaukee – home of some of the nation’s leading water research programs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University, a robust water economy, and the Global Water Center, our headquarters in Walker’s Point – is well positioned to meet that need.

Even though we welcome members from around the world, more than half of our 150 members are based in Wisconsin. These include innovative companies solving pressing water challenges, such as Rapid Radicals Technology (rapid wastewater treatment), NanoAffix Science (creators of a handheld device for detecting lead in water) and ORIN Technologies (environmental remediation, including PFAS destruction).

In fact, we see an opportunity for Wisconsin to become a leader in building climate change resilience. In fall, we applied for a $1 million National Science Foundation grant to plan a regional innovation engine focused on water and energy resilience for manufacturers and utilities with lead partners MKE Tech Hub Coalition, the Wisconsin Technology Council, Marquette University and the Madison Region Economic Partnership.

The need for energy and water solutions is obvious, and we believe Wisconsin’s strong manufacturing base, excellent research universities, and leading energy and water technology companies make a strong case for building such an engine here and exporting our knowledge and solutions across the world.

Milwaukee is already a leader in water treatment, which could help the area accommodate more residents and serve as a model for other cities. For example, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is leading the nation in green infrastructure, including naturalizing concrete water channels, purchasing conservation easements, working with farmers to reduce fertilizer runoff, and providing free or low-cost rain barrels and rain garden materials to residents.

These efforts to “manage water where it falls,” along with MMSD’s Deep Tunnel completed in 2010, help prevent sewer overflows into Lake Michigan when heavy rain threatens to overwhelm MMSD’s water reclamation facilities. MMSD captures and cleans more than 98% of wastewater and stormwater that enters the sewer system, far higher than the EPA requirement of 85% and the totals captured by many other cities with combined sewer systems. This will become even more critical as climate change causes more extreme weather.

Businesses must also do their part in protecting our freshwater for current and future residents. At The Water Council, we work with organizations locally and worldwide on improving water stewardship. In Milwaukee, we’ve worked with companies as large as A. O. Smith and as small as Engel Tool & Forge in Milwaukee’s Harbor District, which was able to cut its water usage by a whopping 90% after implementing a closed-loop water system for cooling equipment.

Although climate change is unquestionably a global catastrophe, Milwaukee’s future remains bright and, frankly, I believe is getting even brighter. The time is now for Milwaukee to prepare itself as a climate and water haven for people seeking a place to work and raise their families. Our abundant freshwater has been essential to writing our community’s history, and today’s spirit of water stewardship and innovation will serve as an essential ingredient in writing the next chapters for Milwaukee.

Dean Amhaus is president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based The Water Council.

Originally published on

MadREP Roundtable with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue

Wednesday Feb 22, 2023
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM CST

Note: The event has been updated to virtual participation only due to inclement weather.

Join MadREP in University Research Park to participate in a virtual roundtable discussion about economic initiatives impacting Wisconsin businesses. MadREP President & CEO Jason Fields and special guests Department of Revenue Secretary Peter Barca, Chief Economist John Koskinen and Senior Economist Emily Canfield will offer presentations before the Q&A and interactive discussions. The meeting will accommodate virtual participation via Zoom. Please be sure to register in advance.

This event will be held virtually due to inclement weather.

RSVP to attend virtually.

Daily Cardinal: Associated Students of Madison holds first training in preparation for lobbying day, prioritizes topics concerning mental health, rent control

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Source: The Daily Cardinal

Student members of ASM are preparing which topics will be presented to the state legislature on lobbying day to best benefit the UW-Madison student body.

The Associated Students of Madison (ASM) held a pre-lobbying day meeting Thursday evening to prepare for lobbying day on Feb. 22. Topics covered included an overview of the initiatives ASM will be advocating for on behalf of the student body, how to lobby a legislature and the schedule for lobbying day.

ASM is the official student governance body of UW-Madison, representing the needs of over 45,000 students. The student group works to best represent the student body and speak up on legal rights, recommending university policies, budgets and candidates for UW employment.

During this meeting, MGR Govindarajan, the legislative affairs chair for ASM, led a thorough training for students who volunteered to participate and speak with the legislature on lobbying day. Govindarajan advised students on how best to represent themselves and the student body.

“My job is to advocate for students at the local, state and federal levels about what students care about at the moment,” said Govindarajan.

Govindarajan presented two topics ASM will focus on during lobbying day, when students will present their case to the Governor on behalf of the student body.

“Mental health and affordable housing are two issues that really matter in Madison,” said Govindarajan. “It’s not a new issue at all, and it impacts a lot of students.”

Govindarajan shared that ASM considers state issues, as well as other issues that impact a large number of students, and makes sure that the topics presented can be resolved by the legislature.

“On lobbying day we will talk to the legislature, the people who vote on bills,” said Govindarajan.

Prioritizing mental health funding 

ASM previously worked with Gov. Tony Evers’ office to increase funding for mental health services at University Health Services (UHS). According to a UW-Madison Healthy Minds study, 21% of students screened positively for depression overall, and 16% of students screened positively for an anxiety disorder.

Students are deeply affected by their mental health, and students expressed that UHS needs increased resources to provide appointments on time — rather than have a three-week wait period like they currently do, said Govindarajan.

Two years ago, the governor requested $15 million for mental health funding, and then the joint finance committee within the legislature cut that to $0, Govindarajan explained. To prevent this recurrence, ASM is speaking up, he said.

“This is holding people accountable,” said Govindarajan, referring to the upcoming lobbying day.

Govindarajan coached ASM members on how to present these topics of discussion in an impactful and engaging manner when speaking to the legislature. Members were encouraged to bring personal stories and figure out the best way to articulate their ideas to better assist the student body’s needs.

Advocating for rent control

Rising rent in the city of Madison is another area of concern among the student body, according to ASM’s collected data. Students are struggling to keep up with the current cost of living and are forced to spend countless hours early in the fall semester looking for housing, making calls and attempting to make a housing arrangement work in an affordable manner, shared Govindarajan during his presentation.

“The legislature prohibits rent control,” said Govindarajan, referencing the Wisconsin state law that states, “No city, village, town or county may regulate the amount of rent or fees charged for the use of a residential rental dwelling unit.”

The Madison Region Economic Partnership said Dane County needs to produce 4,500 to 5,000 net new units per year to meet growth projections of 100,000 additional residents by 2030. The county’s current population is roughly 561,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Data from the ASM interest form that was sent to the student body and filled out by those interested in joining ASM further proves concern from students, as 80% of respondents voted that mental health and/or rent control are major challenges for the student body. ASM’s lobbying day aims to draw attention to these issues, instilling change for students in Madison.

“This is a good opportunity for students to get involved,” said Govindarajan. “It’s more than just voting. A lot of students vote and that’s really good for getting into the civic process; however, actually speaking to your legislature and creating that connection is really important for students. It’s really exciting to see a lot of people get involved in this.”

ASM meets Thursday evenings and will continue preparing for lobbying day on Feb. 22 in the coming weeks.

Article originally published on

In Business: MadREP Economic Development & Diversity Summit to be held May 10

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Source: In Business

MadREP, along with the Urban League of Greater Madison, will hold the 10th annual Madison Region Economic Development & Diversity Summit as an in-person event at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on Wednesday, May 10. Registration will open at the end of February.

Each year, the Summit focuses on advancing talent, opportunity, and growth. Weaving together the important conversations of diversity and economic development, this event reflects the organizations’ shared goal of building this region into a model of economic inclusion.

The daylong summit will engage, educate, and empower attendees around issues related to economic, workforce, and community development. The event will feature keynote speakers, break-out sessions, and networking opportunities.

Article originally published on

Wisconsin State Journal: High rents are pushing many out of the Madison area market & Wisconsin State Journal Logos

Source: Wisconsin State Journal

Karen Gabriel rents a 532-square-foot studio apartment in Madison’s Allied Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood but spends most of her free time looking for a new place to live. She calls her daily experience “roof anxiety.”

“I’m not asking for much,” Gabriel said while driving one of her usual routes after work in search of promising “For Rent” ads.

Gabriel, a paralegal who makes roughly $36,000 a year after taxes, is about to be priced out of her apartment. She pays $899 a month in rent for her small studio but recently was informed by her property manager that will increase to between $999 and $1,099. Gabriel can’t afford that, she said, since her $1,400 biweekly paycheck also goes toward food and other expenses.

Renters across the Madison area are grappling with increasingly unaffordable monthly payments, caused largely by a housing shortage and tight market.

A surging population and high costs for the construction materials to build new apartment complexes and houses are exacerbating the problem, said UW-Madison professor of urban planning Kurt Paulsen.

Currently, the county is producing 1,500 single-family homes and 2,250 multifamily units per year, according to MadREP.

“Until we can increase housing production to keep up with projected population growth, housing prices will likely continue to rise due to growing demand,” MadREP said.

Helen Bradbury, the president of privately owned Stonehouse Development, said that as developers grapple with the continuing high price of construction materials, among other things, the cost burden falls to renters.

Stonehouse Development has 18 properties in Wisconsin, with 15 in Madison, which alone comprise 1,000 subsidized rental housing units and 100 market-rate units.

“If inflation takes off tomorrow, I’m going to suffer that loss and deficit for the entire year, as all our tenants sign a one-year lease,” Bradbury said.

Not only are there operating and utility expenses to pay. There are also real estate taxes and property insurance.

“We have seen an exponential increase in utilities,” Bradbury said. “My director of operations told me to expect a property insurance increase of 20% to 30% next year.”

Amberly Tobin, a 34-year-old who rents on Madison’s West Side, said she has four college degrees in the sciences, two of them graduate degrees. She makes roughly $50,000 a year working full time as a scientist.

But to help cover living expenses and several other bills, Tobin said she lives with a roommate and tends bar on weekends and for weddings. Bartending adds roughly $6,000 to $9,000 to Tobin’s annual income.

Tobin said she pays $1,160 in rent. That will soon increase to $1,290, she said — a figure Tobin considers unaffordable even with her three jobs. She wishes she could buy a house or condo but said she can’t afford that either. She’s “barely making ends meet” as it is.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Tobin said, adding that while she and her roommate are searching for another place to live in the Madison region, the two have yet to find any promising leads.

Glimmers of hope

“There is some reason for optimism,” O’ Keefe said. The improving vacancy rate corresponds to a surge in the issuance of permits for new housing in Madison.

Within the past five years, Madison has approved 13,433 multifamily housing units and 2,189 single-family homes, according to figures the city provided the Wisconsin State Journal. The city approved 730 multifamily units and 1,325 single-family homes in 2018. In 2022, it approved 4,076 multifamily units and 150 single-family homes.

It’s unclear the exact proportion of multifamily units and single-family homes that fall under the “affordable” threshold.

But the city has brought 28 rental development projects to fruition with its Affordable Housing Fund that started a decade ago. The projects have produced or will produce 2,486 new housing units, 1,942 of which support households at or below 60% of Dane County’s household median income of just above $40,000, the city said.

The Affordable Housing Fund in general helps local developers secure equity in Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority tax credits to support the construction of affordable rental units. The City Council this year increased the fund to $10 million — double the sum from when Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway took office in 2019.

The city also recently made changes to its zoning code to encourage more dense housing along future routes for bus rapid transit outside the core Downtown.

At the Dane County level, a survey is being conducted that will help the county determine how it should tackle regional housing crises.

‘Nothing fancy’

Gabriel is still looking for an apartment.

One day last month, she explored Madison’s South Side. Later that evening, Gabriel perused websites in search of more leads.

Despite having no luck in scoring a dwelling that suits her needs, Gabriel is already packing up her apartment — boxes have overtaken her compact living room, bedroom and kitchen. Her lease is up in June.

“My ideal (living space) would have 1,000 square feet with a garage,” Gabriel, who originally went to school for photography, said during her drive. “Maybe a basement. A washer and dryer inside. Two bedrooms. I would put my crafts in one bedroom. Nothing fancy. I would love to have a fireplace for the cold days. I would also like a kitchen I could maybe bake some cookies in.”

Article originally published on
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