I can't believe it! What a sucky week/month/year it's been for Wisconsin tradition. First, Brett Favre retires--which, if you believe the almost 24-hour news coverage of a choked up Brett Favre tearfully telling his fans he just doesn't have the heart to keep on playing, Wisconsinites have been plunged into a deep dark depression--a cold, grey, athletic, nuclear winter. Thankfully, TV land has plenty of psychiatrists to help us all through our grief counseling. But no sooner did we get past the denial stage in our Green Bay grieving process did we get hit with a double loss: Bowling is leaving Milwaukee. That's right, folks, the United States Bowling Congress is picking up and moving to Arlington Texas to cozy up with a bowling owner's association. The USBC leaving Milwaukee is no different than other near or actual catastrophes to hit the region: Midwest Airlines leaving Milwaukee (sort of), Gen Con leaving Milwaukee (and yes, it still hurts the geek in me) or Miller leaving Milwaukee.
What's that? Miller's leaving Milwaukee? OK, so that hasn't happened QUITE yet, but I'm very pessimistic about the outlook. After all, Milwaukee isn't the brewing hub it once was. Of course, Milwaukee isn't quite the job hub it was, either. Milwaukee has seen a steady stream of companies close, reduce labor forces, or otherwise run for the border over the last few decades. In any event, Miller's headquarters is almost certainly to move to some "neutral turf", and unless someone gets their tail in gear, the chances of keeping their production here seems similarly ill-fated.
Bowling has been suffering deeply in Milwaukee, too. I remember the demise of Petroff's, Strachota's, Brown Port Lanes, Red Carpet Lanes, and others. Heck, the bowling league I was in until recently (I had a choice: keep on bowling or spend more time with my expecting wife and soon-to-be brand-new daughter) has declined in membership too.
Funny, isn't it? Blue Collar, Bowling, and Beer--the three together seemed to have defined the Milwaukee area, and now we're at risk of losing our deeply-engrained communal identity.
Meanwhile, what's the deal with Arlington? Well, I don't know much about the city, but I did have an opportunity to skim through their official website. Besides being in a warmer latitude and longitude, the city seems to be focusing on redevelopment, expansion, and attracting business to the area. In many ways it's similar to Milwaukee. Its population exceeds 360,000, it's within 10 minutes of Dallas/Fort Worth (and within 20 minutes of the major airport), is proud of its low property tax rate, has a diverse population, and is a university town. Nary a mention is made of industry within the area. Heck, if you believe the city, they have a beautiful, picturesque land of crime-free suburban sprawl.
Now does that mean that I'm going to pack my bags and move to Arlington? Puh-lease! As a matter of fact, it just makes me want to dig my heels in deeper in this community I love. A lot of blame can go around for why we seem to have part of our cultural identity being chipped away. I think a lot of it has to do with the loss of good old fashioned jobs in the area. As our jobs headed south to Mexico or east to India, we've seen the vibrancy of our cultural traditions and histories chip away too. Certainly, the loss of another 230 employees to another state is a detriment, as well, but we should be regarding these events as a warning sign, and working to stem the rising tide. Quite honestly, although I love the idea of co-starring with Johnny Depp or Lou Diamond Phillips, as film heads to Milwaukee to take advantage of tax breaks, I can't believe that we're going to make up what we've lost by getting some Hollywood pixie dust sprinkled on our heads. I think that comes in two parts: first is working on our infrastructure, particularly improving our metropolitan transit system. People are already leaving Milwaukee and the suburbs to work and live without light rail or better transportation. so making it easier to get into the City seems like it would make sense. The other thing is that we have to do a better job of selling ourselves--this means attracting new businesses into the area. I'm not convinced that manufacturing is dead, but those companies will go where it is cheaper to produce goods. So some consideration of tax breaks would be appropriate. However, you can't put all your eggs in one basket. The times change, and we need to keep in step.
We should be actively courting leaders of the new economy--service-oriented companies, software companies, technology companies. And we've got to do something about making air travel to Milwaukee easier, so those new Miller-Coors executives don't have a 3 hour layover at O'hare. Finally, it's really nicey-nice when we get Doyle, Barrett and Walker to band together to stop the forces of corporate destruction from wreaking havoc in the area, but they really need to do a better job of it. Stop waiting for the emergencies to come. Start being proactive. Waiting until the next emergency won't cut it.
Fortunately, I think that our leadership has slowly started to realize the need to be creative and work together to solve these problems. We may feel like we're on the losing end, sometimes, but I think we're about to turn a corner. And heck, at least we have the Fonz! Aaaaaaaaay!