The Cities That Work Series: Gary-Chicago-Milwaukee mega-region needs strategy for growth - Metropolitan Planning Council

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The Cities That Work Series: Gary-Chicago-Milwaukee mega-region needs strategy for growth


The Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released the OECD’s Territorial Review of the Chicago Tri-State Metropolitan Region in March 2012. This Review examines the policy and governance challenges facing a 14 to 21-county functional economic area straddling three states, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

The extent of a region’s functionality is determined by its commuting and inter-business transportation flows and linkages. The Review found that while the 14-county Chicago-Naperville-Joliet Metropolitan Statistical Area’s functionality is as broad as it is deep, the 21-county Gary-Chicago-Milwaukee corridor is, in fact, a functional area in-the-making with nascent commuting linkages: In 2009, more than 21,000 workers living in metropolitan Milwaukee commuted to work in metropolitan Chicago. Recent commuting flows are increasing between the 14-county region and its belt. Commuting from the seven outlying counties into the 14-county core is growing at about 2.2 percent annually, faster than any other commuting combination in the region, while the rate of workers commuting from the 14 counties to the seven outlying counties is growing at around 2 percent annually. In particular, Milwaukee is increasingly a destination for commuters from the 14-county region—this rate is growing at 3.3 percent annually.

The Review presented an extensive assessment of the challenges facing the region along with recommendations on how they might be addressed by its key stakeholders. Arguably the two most important issues it highlighted focus on workforce development and transportation. Serious skill mismatches are dampening the region’s growth potential on several levels. The region is failing to attract and retain high-skilled labour, and the formation of low and medium skills has suffered from a regionally fragmented workforce development infrastructure disconnected from business needs. And while the region is North America’s premier transportation and logistics hub, it faces space constraints, congestion, financing issues and poorly integrated region-wide planning.

In response, the Review suggested, among other things, that the region’s key public and private workforce development stakeholders articulate and implement a coherent region-wide strategic plan that responds effectively to business needs at all levels of activity. Workforce boards and agencies need to work across county and state lines to streamline programming and link it more clearly to need, while improving data-gathering and information-sharing capacity. The Review also recommended that key stakeholders from the various transportation and logistics sub-sectors in the hub work together across state lines to integrate the various inter-modal plans that already exist as a means to sustain the hub’s competitiveness over the long term.

Adam Knelman Ostry is senior counselor, public governance and territorial development directorate, of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. Mr. Knelman Ostry co-authored the OECD’s Territorial Review of the Chicago tri-state metropolitan region, released in March 2012.

On Wednesday, July 25, MPC hosted our 2012 Annual Luncheon: The Cities That Work, featuring an insightful dialogue between the mayors of Gary and Milwaukee, about opportunities to strengthen the tri-state region. Leading up to the event, we featured a series of posts from guest authors and members of our staff on issues that unite the tri-state region. Read the whole series at 


  1. 1. Harry J. Vande Velde III from NWI on July 11, 2012

    Don't you just love the title of the upcoming luncheon- Cities that work, Gary, Chicago and Milwaukee! My gosh those names conjure up images of places in America that know what the meaning of the term work is. These are cities that have carried our country on their back for decades in numerous key industries and initiatives. We are not afraid of work and now it is time to work at collaborating with each other to maximaze on the assets staring us in the face every day. The collaboartive spirit will enable us to create a global hub of activity that utilizes and maximizes the greatest asset of all, the human treasure that lies within this region. We already have a running start on the assets that other regions wish they had. It is time for great leaders to mount the collaboartive charge, to maximize our assets and to plot a 21st century plan that incorpoates investments in education, job creation, and playing into our centuries old strengths of creative industriousness. Lines on a map are not a hinderance to the creation of a regional vision for advancement of the common good. The pillars of philanthropy, government, and business must be girded together in order to support this visionary approach to movng this great region forward as a global leader.

  2. 2. Jason Biernat from Baltimore via Milwaukee on July 26, 2012

    My wish is that politicians and leaders can become united rather than fragmented due to petty local interests. The Chicago mega-region has such untapped potential. There is a bigger game to be played and we need to go big or go home. Naysayers, obstructionists, complainers, do-nothings and non-contributors must be steamrolled by the force of progress.

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