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Tuesday, September 30, 2014  |   Madison, WI: 48.0° F  
MADLAND: A group blog about life in Madison, Wisconsin
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Madland: Madison's economic growth may lead to Epic resentment
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In San Francisco, protesters have mobilized against Google, complaining that the tech company has made the city utterly unaffordable to those who don't work in the sprawling campus located outside the city.

While Madison may lack the container stores that made San Francisco famous, is our city headed toward a backlash against its own tech giant, Epic?

As Joe Tarr reported last week, the thought that the proposed hotel for Judge Doyle Square might be used as much for Epic clients as Monona Terrace guests fired up opponents like Ald. David Ahrens.

"It'd be an incredibly unpopular thing to say, that we're building a hotel for a corporation that has billions of dollars in profit," said Ahrens.

Income inequality is a nationwide problem, and certainly not the fault of Epic Systems and its impressive growth. But as our local "haves" compared to the stagnant wages of other sectors of the Madison economy, they become a very tempting punching bag.

Similarly, the corporate culture can vary from the Madison norm. Employees who work 70 hours a week under contracts that stipulate you can't take paying side jobs? When would they have time to volunteer at their local CSA, or work on their feminist spoken-word performance?

I imagine that anti-Judge Doyle Square folks will play up the Epic connection in the 2015 mayoral election. They view this as Soglin's equivalent to Dave Cieslewicz's trouble with the Edgewater development, without acknowledging that controversial hotel project was only one of many factors that led to Mayor Dave's loss.

This won't be the only clash. The Constellation, the apartment anchor for the 800 block of East Wash, is renowned for rapidly filling up with Epic employees (and a small Google office), but it is only the first major new development on the avenue. The city plans to turn this street bisecting the isthmus into a high-tech corridor, which may end up anchored by companies primarily created by Epic expats. So far, most people in Madison seem to be in favor of this because East Wash is ugly and there is nothing fun there except for concerts at the High Noon Saloon and karaoke at the Baldwin Street Grille.

If this effort is successful, it won't stop at East Wash. Development is going to creep out to surrounding areas, including Williamson-Marquette, Madison's favorite gentrified neighborhood that doesn't want to acknowledge that it is gentrified. I love that neighborhood, but it is filled with people who don't quite get that it is a privilege to have a single-family home a stone's throw from the Capitol.

The debate last fall over a proposed multi-story apartment building at 722 Williamson St. shows where things will be heading as more construction cranes descend upon the near east side.

"This will snarl traffic on Williamson Street and tower over our neighborhood," wrote one neighborhood email listserv member.

Remember, this is the neighborhood that turned a grocery store's driveway into a rallying cry, which then spawned a local social media phenomenon. I can easily see Epic becoming a figurative as well as literal four-letter word on entrenched downtown listserv cliques.

A big contributor to the anti-Google protests in San Francisco is that people who work in San Francisco can no longer afford to live in San Francisco. I recently moved from Willy Street to the north side because I couldn't afford a house on the isthmus. While I both love my new neighborhood and believe the benefits of Epic far outweigh the negatives, there's a part of me that gets angry I can't afford to live closer to where I work because 23-year-old Epic employees want to be able to be within walking distance of bars.

Madison's rebirth from a state capital to a healthcare IT capital is crucial if the city is to remain vital. But that transition won't be painless for longtime residents.

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