Pursuing Innovation

Benchmarking Milwaukee’s Transition to a Knowledge-based Economy

March 2010


While the Milwaukee region’s economic base is rooted in its manufacturing history, many believe that the region’s future prosperity will be tied to its ability to successfully transition its economy into one that is based on knowledge and innovation.

Indeed, fostering innovation has become the call to action for business and political leaders alike. On its web site, the Milwaukee 7 economic development group touts the region’s success in helping businesses ―transform technological innovations into marketable products and describes its vision for a region that is ―globally competitive in an innovation economy. Meanwhile, in his recent state of the state address, Governor Jim Doyle asserted that Wisconsin is ―spurring research and development through new incentives and ―giving investors new tools to create start-ups. On the federal level as well, the Obama administration has outlined ―A Strategy for American Innovation calling for increased federal investment in research, education and other initiatives commonly seen as the building blocks of innovation.

With this growing emphasis on innovation as a critical component of regional, state and national economic development strategies, it is pertinent to ask where our region stands in this regard. Several local efforts have been launched to promote ―next generation manufacturing, increase university research and development, and grow the region’s knowledge workforce. As these efforts pick up steam, it is important to assess whether they are succeeding and how our region compares to others.

The Public Policy Forum’s Innovation Index is designed to do just that. In our premier report, we gather baseline regional data on measures that have been closely linked to the 21st century economy: idea development and commercialization; entrepreneurship; and the availability of knowledge and skilled workers. We utilize that data not only to assess whether our region is making progress, but also to evaluate how we measure up to other similar-sized metropolitan regions, including some that have been widely recognized for their innovation prowess. We plan to update this analysis at regular intervals in order to continue to measure our progress and benchmark our success against other regions.