WIND POINT — A dive into the data reveals some striking — though unsurprising — differences between the City of Racine and outlying communities.
Unemployment, median household income, poverty, college graduates and property values are some of the areas in which a clear distinction emerges, Rob Henken, president of the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum, told about 120 community leaders Wednesday at The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread.
That reality prompts questions for those community leaders: How much do those differences impact the entire Racine area? Would it help if the seven Racine County communities east of Interstate 94 operated more cohesively? What would that cohesiveness look like?
The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread’s Resilient Communities initiative is trying to start discussions about those types of questions. Henken was the second of three speakers to present at Wingspread, 33 E. Four Mile Road, as part of the initiative mulling the future of the Racine region.
“Racine certainly has far bigger demographic and socioeconomic challenges than its neighbors. That’s just a fact of life,” Henken said. “One of the concerns is the extent to which there is a cycle that has begun that will be difficult to reverse.”
Kenosha performing better
Racine County’s situation — outlying communities outperforming the central city — is certainly not uncommon in metro areas, Henken said. Residents need only look to their northern neighbor, Milwaukee County, where a similar scenario has played out.
Racine County, in fact, has much in common with Milwaukee County, according to the data Henken presented. Both have seen limited growth of population and property values, experienced a similar loss of jobs and have about the same retail sales per capita.
The more common comparison for local officials and residents is Kenosha. Henken’s data showed gaps between outlying communities and the city were not as pronounced in Kenosha, where the city is performing better economically.
Henken noted some key differences: Kenosha County has just three municipalities east of Interstate 94 compared to seven in Racine, and the City of Kenosha extends out to the freeway and beyond.
Still, he asked the audience to consider how important it is to work together to narrow those gaps.
“I can tell you that there are clear benefits that we have seen in our research,” Henken said, “from communities where collaboration is strong, versus communities where they are competing in a cutthroat way for jobs and economic development.”
Henken floated shared fire services as a possible starting point for discussions on collaboration, referencing the North Shore Fire Department in Milwaukee County that serves seven suburban communities.
No matter the directions local officials decide to take, change won’t come easilyy, he added.
“In order for you to close those gaps and to achieve through cooperation and collaboration,” Henken said, “I would surmise you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and work a little harder.”
Second of three
Wednesday’s briefing was the second of three planned at Wingspread. Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting, is scheduled to conclude the series Wednesday. When it’s over, officials plan to meet one on one with community groups and governing bodies.
Resilient Communities events are at capacity, but residents can join the discussion online by watching a livestream at Facebook.com/TJFWingspread. During question-and-answer sessions, a moderator will take questions posed online and ask them on users’ behalf. The livestream is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.