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Why we need the Milwaukee Anchor Collaborative

By Bill Krugler

President, JobsWork MKE

Milwaukee is a wonderful city, but we have challenges. Just look at the racial inequities and lack of diversity in the workforce.

It’s time to step up and deal with these challenges.

That’s why JobsWork MKE has led the creation of the Milwaukee Anchor Collaborative. Seven of Milwaukee’s biggest employers – the “anchors” – have committed to leveraging their combined economic power to hire residents, and purchase from businesses, in Milwaukee’s eight most disadvantaged zip codes.

These are the seven anchors:

  • Advocate Aurora Health

  • Ascension Wisconsin

  • Children’s Wisconsin

  • Froedtert Health

  • Medical College of Wisconsin

  • Marquette University

  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Anchor collaboratives have been forming in cities across the country. They’ve proven that major institutions, rooted in their communities, can make a bigger impact together than they can individually.

In Cleveland, for example, healthcare and educational organizations combined their purchasing power to support a commercial laundry and other business ventures in that city’s low-income neighborhoods.

Imagine the potential here in Milwaukee.

Example: All of the healthcare anchors need PPE -- personal protective equipment. Right now, it’s all coming from China. Why not buy from a supplier in one of the targeted zip codes? One anchor alone might not be enough to support a local provider. Several anchors, purchasing together, would.

Example: Let’s say a current supplier is not in Milwaukee. Together, the anchors would ask that supplier to set up an operation here, in one of the target neighborhoods. One anchor alone might not have enough leverage. But with seven doing it together, the supplier is going to listen. Because that's a lot of purchasing.

Collaboration at work

But don’t just imagine the benefits of collaboration. Here in Milwaukee, we’re already seeing it. Healthcare companies in our city identified a pressing common need: qualified people to fill jobs. So they joined forces to create the Center for Healthcare Careers -- to develop a pipeline of employees.

Even though these companies are competing for workers, they saw the benefit of banding together. Even more exciting: The center is training people from Milwaukee’s low-income neighborhoods. The healthcare companies are helping themselves and providing good jobs for people who need them. It's a win-win.

Right now, the Milwaukee Anchor Collaborative is just getting started. We’ve gathered data to determine the starting point. How many people are employed in the target zip codes? How many businesses are there? We’ve formed a purchasing council and hiring council, both comprised of anchor representatives. They are looking at the data and developing goals for the next five years: how much to increase hiring and spending. We expect to announce those goals this fall.

But the Milwaukee Anchor Collaborative is about more than setting goals. It's about taking the concrete steps to achieving them. By identifying potential vendors for the anchors – and connecting them. By ensuring workforce development agencies, including internally at JobsWork MKE, prepare and provide candidates for employment.

A proven approach

We’ve demonstrated the model works. For years, JobsWork MKE has been partnering with these anchors – providing them with employees and connecting them with small business suppliers in our disinvested communities. But until now, we’ve worked on an individual basis, one-on-one, and somewhat informally.

I know a formal collaborative will have a greater impact. And I believe now is the right time to make that happen.

In the last year, the tragic murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement have raised awareness of the racial inequities in our society. I think this has caused a lot of people to stand up and ask, ‘What can I do to make a difference?’

This is a way. A concrete way for the seven anchor institutions to drive positive impact. To consciously use purchasing and hiring to drive positive change.

To step up and help meet the challenge in neighborhoods struggling for too long.


What do you think? Let me know at:


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