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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast
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A failed effort at collaboration between Madison and Milwaukee
UW's Dines: Milwaukee sometimes gets overlooked.
UW's Dines: Milwaukee sometimes gets overlooked.

There appeared to be a big breakthrough in 2006 in the historic estrangement of Madison and Milwaukee. Through the "M2 Collaborative," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Dave Cieslewicz, then Madison's mayor, pledged to work together on such issues as job growth, education, transportation and poverty.

"It never happened," says Cieslewicz, explaining that Barrett failed to appoint the Milwaukee members to a joint task force. "I think highly of Tom and endorsed him for governor, but he had more important things to do than building this relationship with Madison. Milwaukee doesn't look west, it looks south to Chicago."

Barrett wasn't available to comment, but his press secretary Jodie Tabak, before referring me to city development commissioner Rocky Marcoux, admitted: "Sometimes good ideas lose their place in line."

Marcoux pointed his finger at UW-Madison as the problem in the relationship. He says that the campus, which attracts a billion dollars a year in research grants and profits handsomely from licensing and patenting faculty research, favors Madison and Dane County and pretty much ignores the investment needs of the rest of the state.

"Madison can be somewhat insular," says Marcoux. "This huge machinery has built up around the university that doesn't necessarily embrace the fact that Milwaukee is 70 miles away."

Allen Dines of UW-Madison's Office of Corporate Relations sympathizes: "It's ironic that we can think of doing business in India or China, and yet can't look 70 miles down the road to Milwaukee."

But retired Chancellor John Wiley roundly rejects the notion that the Madison campus is to blame. He faults Milwaukee, saying its intense political and academic feuds immobilize Milwaukee-area leaders and make them impossible to deal with.

Parsing who's right or wrong is worthy of its own story. Terry Grosenheider, a Madison banker who's active in the Wisconsin Technology Council, makes a broader point that seems irrefutable: The Madison-Milwaukee relationship has to be cultivated.

"We have a lot more in common with one another than we do with our out-state brethren," he says. "We have to get this relationship right before we can think of expanding our connections to Chicago and Minneapolis.

"Our fates," Grosenheider says of Madison and Milwaukee, "are tied together whether or not we know it."

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