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Open Design & Innovation shows how to grow the economy.  (There’s an app for that.)

Milwaukee is well-known as the machine shop to the world. Today we are still one of the top regions in advanced manufacturing in the country. What is not known is that we’ve also been a design shop to the world.

One legacy is Milwaukee designer, Brooks Stevens, the father of industrial design who created an economic imprint with his designs still used by many of our global Milwaukee companies.

Stevens convinced Miller Brewing to make a simple design change—a switch from traditional brown bottles to clear bottles for the introduction of Miller Lite creating a market edge for Miller-Coors that still holds today.

Today, great technology and design creates that moment of human interface that defines great products. Design is viral. So how does a manufacturing and retail corporate town like Milwaukee ensure that design and designers remain a driving economic force in the success of our global companies?

A 2010 report, “Creativity Works,” by the Creative Alliance of Milwaukee highlighted 66,000 existing jobs in the region in creative fields. We know we have a cluster of existing world-class engineering schools, schools of design including the school founded by Brooks Stevens, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and we still have the global company headquarters.

Early this year, we decided to link our universities and colleges, design shops and companies reliant on design with an emerging group of entrepreneurs, focused on design, mobile technology, and the art of the interface to create MiKE—Milwaukee

In 2007, our organization, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, undertook a similar economic effort in creating the Milwaukee Water Council—a cluster of 120 water technology companies, academic institutions and environmental groups who are focused on clean water efforts throughout the world through research, corporate focus and global education. The Economist in May 20, 2010 noted that Milwaukee “exemplifies the hope that water may not only support growth, but catalyze it.”

As a result, the region has created new jobs, new degrees in fresh water research, increased NSF grants, and the only school in the United States focused on advanced degrees in fresh water—the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee School of Fresh Water Sciences created with a $50 million grant from the State of Wisconsin.  The creation of the Water Cluster energized our region and redefined how we are perceived throughout the globe.

MiKE has similar potential to create synergy between start-ups, large corporations, and manufacturers and our educational systems to define Milwaukee’s space in the global design/tech universe.

One site of the lean seed incubators focused on design and technology is in an urban mall that struggles with high vacancy rates, the Grand Avenue. http://www.jsonline.com/business/126460583.html  The mall’s low cost of entry and a downtown mix of restaurants, bars and the riverwalk are attracting a non-conventional mix of young creatives that includes ArtMilwaukee —an incubator for local artists that connects their work to community events.

We are incredibly excited to be a part of the ArtPlace experience. The award is a real catalyst for our future in creating that moment of place, opportunity and human interface that can redefine a region’s future.

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