Milwaukee Business Journal article: Strengthening Economic Competitiveness -- through Philanthropy?

head shot of William MartinWilliam Martin
For Milwaukee Business Journal
August 19, 2016

Wisconsin businesses are hiring, and that is good news!  According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in June was Milwaukee County is 5.6%…higher than the nation and balance of state, but moving in the right direction.  An example of growing demand for labor is a regional job fair being held this month in which employers from Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties are eager to fill more than 1,000 positions.

While Wisconsin is “open for business” as state government likes to say, and employment is undoubtedly gaining ground, the economic recovery hasn’t reached all areas of the region.  Unemployment rates among African Americans and Latinos continue to be multiple times higher.

The increasingly global competition in business is like running a marathon; one has to have a healthy heart and body, and train hard, to stay ahead in the race.  To continue the simile, high unemployment in Milwaukee’s central city neighborhoods is like having a heart with only three of the four chambers working properly—a condition that would certainly reduce the likelihood of going the distance over the long haul.  To stretch the illustration just a little bit further, the great news is this “heart condition” is quite reversible, and everyone can do something to make a difference.

Education and training are key prescriptions for our region’s economic health.  If you believe as did Horace Mann, the father of American public education, that education is the “great equalizer,” there are a variety of ways to get involved.  Consider volunteering or contributing financially to support initiatives that are making a real impact in preparing youth and adults of color—members of our region’s potential and future workforce—to compete.

Milwaukee Succeeds—led by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation—is making progress in ensuring children of color are prepared to enter school and ready to make the most of their academic opportunities.  Pathways Milwaukee, which partners with public and parochial schools alike, asks low-income students and their parents to make a multi-year commitment to its educational enrichment program.  Its evaluation shows the investment pays off, with students who were behind upon entry erasing the achievement gap and competing on par with their peers in college.

City Year Milwaukee is engaging a diverse array of young adults dedicated to tutoring, mentoring, and supporting struggling students so they thrive, rather than drop out, of school.  Milwaukee Area Technical College has over 50,000 adult students training to gain skills and put them to work for our regional economy.  While tuition is much less than other options, many still need financial help to complete their education.

Men’s Wearhouse recently had a promotion for customers to donate gently used suits and other business apparel; the donations were given to YWCA-Southeast Wisconsin for men unable to afford appropriate clothing for interviews or work.  The annual drive just ended, but the need hasn’t.

These are just five of the incredible organizations and institutions in our community who are helping youth and adults join the race and making our region more competitive in the global economic marathon.  However, they could do it so much effectively with your support and that of your colleagues.  Volunteering your time to read to a class, or mentor a student; contributing financially to help a student learn more academically and technically; or donating a suit or other work attire are all terrific ways to help youth and adults of color become more competitive.

By partnering with any of the organizations mentioned, or any of the many others doing outstanding work, you and your company can change a life and a family as well as strengthen neighborhoods in the heart of Milwaukee and expand the region’s future workforce.  And, that would great news for all of us, now and well into the future.

William Martin is the founder of Jericho Resources, Inc., and was elected by peers to serve as president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals-Southeastern Wisconsin (AFP-SEWI), one of the largest chapters in North America. 

AFP’s monthly column in the Milwaukee Business Journal is edited by Doug Diefenbach, principal of Diefenbach Communications Strategies, a full-service consultancy specializing in philanthropic communications.