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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

Mayor Barrett's Epic -- And Total -- Fail

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It's rare that we get to see the absolute failure of a scheme with such definitive finality. 

You may recall that as he launched what would eventually turn into two (2) failed bids for governor, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett unveiled a high touted and widely applauded economic development initiative to attract and grow business by using the city's greatest national resource: water.

Other than his idea to spend $100 million on a downtown trolley, that was pretty much all Barrett had in way of ideas to create jobs. So it was a big deal.

The Barrett Idea: lure businesses here with deeply discounted water rates. This would especially appeal, we were told, to businesses in drought stricken areas, which would be drawn to our oasis of abundant, cheap water.

It was big news. And, as far as I can tell, not a single skeptic or critic of the idea was ever quoted in any of the numerous dead tree articles on Barrett's water-for-job gambit.

Fast forward to this week:

A pilot program offered by the City of Milwaukee to lure water-intensive businesses to the city may be scrapped after no businesses signed up for the discount.

The Milwaukee Common Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to ask state utility regulators to discontinue the WAVE rate that city leaders announced several years ago in a bid to lure businesses from drought-stricken regions like Georgia.

Note bene: Not a single business ever signed up for the Great Barrett water Initiative. Not one. Nada.

The entire program was a press release; a news conference; a few headlines... and not a single job.

As it turns out, the program was a non-starter from the get-go..

Companies considering relocation may care about the cost of doing business and incentives, but water rates aren't something they're focusing on, said Carrie Lewis, superintendent of the Milwaukee Water Works.

"Site selectors - those consultants that businesses hire when they're looking to relocate - do not have the cost of water on the list," she said. "It ranks too low as a factor in site selection decisions."

Now they tell us.

But the fact that business really don't care about water rates was (1) either known back in 2010 when Barrett launched the discount, or (2) could have been easily ascertained by, say, picking the phone and asking someone with a clue.

That didn't happen and it's reasonable to ask why.

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