Why Millennial Entrepreneurs Are Flocking to this Surprising Midwestern City
This piece originally appeared on Millennial.
Milwaukee is one of those old industrial American cities that has traditionally been known for its beer, brats, and manufacturing. But as more millennials dominate the city, a NEWaukee is starting to emerge, creating a fresh and modern vibe that is responsible for reinvigorating those that currently inhabit this north Midwestern gem.
Changing the way people connect in the city, NEWaukee is a social architecture firm by and for Milwaukee millennials that is transforming the city’s identity and harnessing the power of community. The group offers programming that unites like-minds through art, culture, sports, adventure, large-scale festivals and intimate networking opportunities.
They are most famous for organizing Young Professional Week, a 15-city statewide collaboration that incentivizes millennials to reconnect with their city and meet their peers. It is through these events that NEWaukee is helping to bring people together in hopes of turning Milwaukee into a flourishing in-demand city.
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As the manufacturing industry moved overseas, many of Milwaukee’s factories and warehouses now sit empty, making it a hotbed for investors and entrepreneurs. With ready to convert space, the city’s industrial charm is a mecca for urban designers looking for their next project. Lots of businesses in the surrounding region are taking advantage of the low cost real estate and creating unique cultural havens. Two companies that are dominating the space are Colectivo Coffee and Penrod.
A locally-owned coffee shop, Colectivo has become a neighborhood staple. With free wifi, strong brews, and rustic chic allure, Colectivo has become a breeding ground for freelancers and startups alike. With nine locations throughout Milwaukee, Colectivo rivals Starbucks (SBUX) in popularity and is buzzing with people from open til close.
Penrod is a millennial owned and operated cloud based consulting agency specializing in Salesforce.com. Besides being recognized for its year over year growth, Penrod recently received the NEWaukee Bubbler Award for “Best Place to Work in Wisconsin for Young Professionals.”
With a company culture that puts people first, Penrod has become the token millennial tech firm in Milwaukee raising the bar on workplace standards. Employee perks include casual dress, happy hour, in office recreation, kitchen snacks, and medical insurance.
CEO and founder Joe Taylor, 32, moved to Milwaukee to create his startup after leaving MySpace in Los Angeles. “There is more opportunity in Milwaukee,” he tells MiLLENNiAL, “there are a lot of companies in the Midwest that are behind.” The region, which is home to many corporate headquarters, presents an untapped market for millennial entrepreneurs.
He adds that Milwaukee is close to many large US cities, making trips to Chicago, New York, Boston, Austin, and D.C. fairly easy. “It’s important to have access to that,” he insists, saying that both coasts don’t offer such convenience.
For more on millennials, watch this Fortune video:
Turning Downtown Milwaukee into an Urban Playground
Revitalizing the downtown area, Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. is actively working to make the city center a more liveable, walkable, community-driven part of town with the renovation of Grand Avenue’s Plankinton Building. A beautiful historic establishment built in the 1800s, the Plankinton Building was turned into a traditional mall in the 80s and hasn’t quite kept up with the times, until now.
With plans to convert the first floor into an eclectic marketplace, complete with organic grocers, brewpubs, and farm to table restaurants, the goal is to turn the stagnant venue into a thriving environment for all to enjoy. The second floor is slated to transform into modern, open facing offices overlooking the ground floor.
The center of the development will retain its atrium-style skylight, a signature fixture of the building. Lead project architect , Chris Socha, announced at a press conference that the design is modeled after Melbourne, “the world’s most livable city”, in addition to many other cities around the world, whereby service alleys around the building function as cool commerce zones, filled with intimate shops, bars, and cafes.
Becoming a Global Hub for Fresh Water
The only organization of its kind in the United States, The Water Council is a globally connected epicenter for freshwater research, innovation, education and business development and is headquartered in Milwaukee.
Wisconsin is known for being the “freshwater capital of the world,” with 86 percent of the state bordering water. Statewide, the water technology industry has more than 200 companies based in Wisconsin, over 20 academic partners with water-based curriculum, and water-technology exports growing by 7.4 percent as of 2014.
The Water Council makes the claim on their website that “the gold rush of decades past is being replaced with today’s water tech rush.” The industry has already begun to carve out their place in the city, turning a portion of Walker’s Point into the ‘Water Technology District’, and is home to the nation’s first school dedicated to the study of freshwater.
Tying into the city’s pseudo-mascot: beer, the Water Council recently launched a new accelerator program called BREW (Business. Research. Entrepreneurship. in Wisconsin.). “Our first-of-its-kind accelerator pairs a unique water-focused startup community with credible resources of the World Water Hub to help entrepreneurs from around the world accelerate results, inspire action to create further opportunity, and disrupt the status quo,” it states on the website.
Moving to Milwaukee Yet?
With unique industry opportunities emerging, Milwaukee is quickly becoming a “Best City” for millennials. Real estate prices are between $100,000 – $350,000 for a 3-bedroom 2-bathroom house, making the city viable for young families and property investors.
As more Chicago based businesses begin to relocate and entrepreneurs are drawn to the area, the amount of development will drastically increase and neighborhoods that could use some sprucing will become trendy.
If you can bare the cold, and are searching for a place that offers low cost of living for a high quality of life, Milwaukee just might be for you. It has a lot to offer both culturally and economically, and with organizations like NEWaukee planning events year-round, the opportunities to meet your community are abundant.
For the latest information about what is happening in Milwaukee visit NEWaukee.com.