COMMENTARY: Kenosha is ready to compete on a larger stage

As we enjoy the summer of 2021 in Kenosha, I’m excited and looking forward to the days ahead. The day when all the plywood we used to board up homes and businesses is finally gone. The day when we’ve vaccinated as many people as we can. And already we’re regularly gathering in larger groups, enjoying live music outdoors under a Wisconsin summer sun. We’re already starting to reset.

Resets like ours in 2021 are good moments to take stock of how we’re doing in the city and county of Kenosha — and consider where we want to go. When it comes to economic development, we have much to be thankful for.

The Mayor’s Downtown Vision continues to advance, with a downtown parking structure complete. The Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood at the Chrysler Engine Plant site is slated to receive $10 million in funding from the state. The HARIBO and Nexus developments at the Prairie Highlands Corporate Park are steadily moving forward, as are projects in Bristol, Salem Lakes, and Somers.

All of which leaves open the question: Where do we want to go?

I am convinced that Kenosha is ready to compete on a larger stage. As we continue to ask how economic development in our city and county can reach more people and more neighborhoods, I believe the time is right to choose similar places in the Midwest and see how we compare — and then get on with outperforming them.

As part of a strategic planning exercise in 2009, KABA worked with TIP Strategies to identify cities of similar size and commuting distance to a major metropolitan area — places like Allentown, Pennsylvania, for instance. The intent was to create context and better understand how the community was performing relative to an applicable peer group. We may want to update the set and add some aspirational cities, such as Rochester, Minnesota.

The point is not that we want to be any of those cities, but instead that we make sure our community prospers as well or better than many of them. Measures to consider would include per capita income, median household income, and poverty rates, among others. If it turns out we are not prospering as well as they are, we can begin to understand if there are initiatives we should consider.

The Kenosha area is seeing substantial growth in economic activity, and our local leaders have plans for more. All that tells me that we have the wherewithal, through the city, the county, and economic development partners, to improve our economy and the lives of our residents. We can build on the strength of our location, develop our unique assets, and implement strategies that have worked in similar places, all at the same time.

During this year of reset, then, let’s take steps to define how we aim to compete — and then show the rest of the region what we’ve got.

Written by John Swallow, President, Carthage College. Read more at the Kenosha News.

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