Oak Creek, Franklin highlight growth at State of the Cities breakfast

Eggs, bacon, coffee and talk of economic development – the fourth annual State of the Cities breakfast on Milwaukee County’s south side filled up a large room at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare on 27th Street in Franklin earlier this month. 

It’s hard to keep up with the rapid development of Oak Creek and Franklin. The friendly State of the Cities gathering, which was sponsored by the South Suburban Chamber of Commerce, gave community leaders a chance to go over the highlights. 

“We’ve done some really great things over the last year and a half,” said Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz. “We have momentum, and we have to keep the momentum.” 

Bukiewicz, who started as an Oak Creek alderman nearly 10 years ago, witnessed the city’s transformation. Oak Creek’s brand new, mixed-use Drexel Town Square has quickly become a center for economic activity.  

To celebrate the town square and bolster new businesses, Oak Creek added many events to its calendar. From concerts to food-truck festivals to a city-run beer garden, Bukiewicz said the events bring people together. 

“The more we gather together, the more we understand exactly what’s going on and the what the challenges are within the city,” he said. 

Bringing people together is also central to Franklin’s success, according to Aaron Hertzberg, the city’s director of economic development.  

“When we talk about economic development, it starts with communication within our community,” Hertzberg said. 

The Rock Sports Complex in Franklin already attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. It has a ski hill, concert series, baseball and more. The city’s next exciting development, Ballpark Commons, is slated to bring an even wider range of entertainment opportunities to the Rock’s vicinity. 

Construction for the mixed-use Ballpark Commons is scheduled to start in the spring. An outdoor baseball stadium, indoor sports facility, restaurants, retail spaces, offices, apartments and more will make up the more than $100 million development. 

At the State of the Cities, Hertzberg said the talk about Franklin’s Ballpark Commons is exciting – it’s a “sexy” project. However, he also spoke about business park expansions that might not receive the same attention but are at the heart of economic development. 

According to the economic development director, Baptista’s Bakery announced a $7.8 million investment in their Franklin facility and Krones Inc. announced plans for a $4 million training center. In addition, Carlisle IT has expanded twice in the last two years. 

“We’ve got hundreds of jobs that are hiring in our business and industrial parks right now,” Hertzberg said. “Carlisle is one of those major companies looking to hire highly-skilled labor.” 

In Oak Creek, Bukiewicz is excited about the new IKEA bui lding currently being constructed near I-94. IKEA brings with it a reputation of being a regional draw for furniture shoppers. 

“The IKEA site is huge,” Bukiewicz said during his breakfast presentation at Wheaton Franciscan. “It’s kind of like southeast Wisconsin getting a major league team.” 

A dedicated staff with “long-term leaders” at city hall contributed to Oak Creek’s success, Bukiewicz said. But there was another crucial factor – the Drexel interchange at I-94. Perceptions of the city changed after the Drexel interchanged opened, according to Oak Creek’s mayor. 

“Drexel interchange bisected our city, and it made Town Square possible,” Bukiewicz said. “It made the IKEA site possible. It’s going to raise all boats.”