New Economic Development Director is a Familiar Face — and the Perfect Choice

2017-10-18_6-49-12As I wrote this summer …

South Milwaukee is a crossroads when it comes to economic development.

We have built a strong foundation for growth, are witnessing some real successes and have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape who we are and where we’re headed. At the same time, we are facing some of the biggest economic (re)development challenges we’ve ever faced as a city,

We need help — the right person to help guide us through this critical time.

We now have that person. And we didn’t have to look far.

On Tuesday, the South Milwaukee Common Council voted unanimously to appoint Stephanie Hacker as our new economic development director.

In her leadership role at GRAEF, Stephanie was the point person in helping us develop our comprehensive plan. Now she will help bring it to life.

She’s a perfect fit, now more than ever, as we dive into major redevelopment efforts across the city, in need of someone who brings the requisite knowledge, energy, passion and relationships to the role and can hit the ground running.

There is plenty to do.

  • It starts with the potential redevelopment of more than 1 million square feet of industrial, warehouse and office space downtown. This includes much of the Caterpillar campus, where 750,000 square feet of buildings were recently put up for sale or lease, and the Johnson Health Tech property along 12th Avenue, where more than 250,000 square feet is coming available as the company plans a move to a new location in Racine County later this year.
  • Our ongoing work in revitalizing Milwaukee Avenue and the rest of our city center, where the focus remains on working against the downtown plan. This includes a great start to our Downtown Revitalization Grant program, early work in exploring formation of a business improvement district, and advancing our designation as a Connect Communities city.
  • Our (stronger than ever) efforts around small business recruitment and retention. We have delivered solid new business growth across the city in the last several years, and there is more in the pipeline and plenty more to go out and get. We are building new relationships every day, and strengthening our existing ones, and this role will be critical in those efforts.
  • The planned redevelopment of the property at 11th and Madison Avenues into a mixed-used development. The project is still very much alive, and I am expecting Vetter Denk to bring a formal plan forward later this fall.
  • Redevelopment of other key “opportunity” sites across the city as identified in the comprehensive plan, including the former AMF property, areas along Oak Creek north of downtown, and key parcels near South Chicago Avenue. There is also this proposed project on College Avenue. These are often tough sites that require intense focus to bring back to life.

Stephanie will lead these efforts, and more.

She also has a respected and powerful team behind her. Stephanie will remain an employee of GRAEF, working for the city on average 25 hours per week under a retainer agreement. It’s an arrangement that has served us well in other areas, as City Attorney Chris Smith brings the resources of his law firm (Wesolowski, Reidenbach and Sajdak) and Assessor Stewart Hamel brings the resources of his assessment firm (Tyler Technologies Inc.) in delivering these services for us on a day-to-day basis.

While that relationship will be invaluable, Stephanie is well qualified on her own, and well-regarded in the economic development community as leader of GRAEF’s Planning + Urban Design Group. From the GRAEF website …

Stephanie has experience spanning comprehensive and master planning, public participation strategies, municipal code review, neighborhood revitalization, and ongoing planning services for urban, suburban, and rural communities. At the core of Stephanie’s work in economic development, planning, and urban revitalization lies her dedication to building a central vision and establishing systems that kick-start physical change. She cares deeply about using urban design and planning to enhance the nexus of community and neighborhood vitality, public health, and the triple bottom line. Stephanie works with business, nonprofit, and government clients to implement vital enhancements in our physical environment.

Missing from that description is probably Stephanie’s strongest attribute: her passion. It’s something I noticed the first time I met here, and I see it more than ever now.

Stephanie is genuinely excited to step in this role, and move from planning to execution. And we are excited to have her.

Now, let’s get to work.

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