By Charles Hoslet

I was driving along I-94 from Madison to Milwaukee the other day and crashed right through a large brick wall.  I noticed that other drivers were also getting through…in both directions. 

The brick wall, of course, was just a figment of my imagination, one of those old “truths” we are taught to believe, but just aren’t true any more.  The old idea is that Madison and Milwaukee are very different places, have little in common, and frankly don’t much like each other.  We pick on each other almost as much as we do those Bears fans to the south.

This has been a large and persistent idea, and there are still people who think this brick wall must exist out there somewhere around Johnson Creek, or maybe at the Pewaukee exit…hard to find but surely there.

The fact is that the I-94 corridor connecting Madison and Milwaukee is not only 70 miles of concrete enabling us to get back and forth in just a little over an hour (a short commute if you’re fighting traffic in New York or LA), but a main artery along the “IQ Corridor” that stretches through Wisconsin from the Twin Cities to Chicago. Wisconsin’s ability to flourish and grow depends in part on our ability to remove any old blockages in this artery and cooperatively leverage the strengths of our two cities.
Here are some salient facts about Madison and Milwaukee today:

  • Milwaukee is one of the great large cities in America, and is Wisconsin’s business and financial capital.
  • Madison is one of the great medium-sized cities in America, sometimes referred to as a hotbed of science and technology.
  • One half of all Wisconsin companies with revenues of $1-billion or more are in Milwaukee and Madison.
  • There was more than $700-million in R&D spending at academic institutions in Madison and Milwaukee in 2002, the vast majority of all such spending in the state.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has a new, energetic leader, Chancellor Carlos Santiago, who has already made clear his commitment to the university’s role as a major public research university “serving the citizens of Wisconsin.” 

And just down I-94, UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley reinforces his campus’ longstanding commitment to “the priorities of Wisconsin’s people.”  These are not the words of leaders in competition or conflict, but rather the leaders of two large and important sources of learning and research that fuel the knowledge economy…and their top priority is to serve the people of Wisconsin.
Our Office of Corporate Relations has been in business for almost two years now, connecting the resources of our campus with the needs of businesses all over Wisconsin.  One of the truths I’ve seen as we’ve carried out our mission is that we are all connected here in Wisconsin, and that we all need to share our resources in this incredibly complex, competitive and increasingly technology-driven global business environment.   Among the businesses we’ve been working with are several large companies in the Milwaukee area, helping them connect with the intellectual assets and human resources on the Madison campus.

We’ve also developed programs that tap into the equally important resources of other UW campuses in the state.  One of these programs is our new Wisconsin Business Briefings series, which showcase specific expertise in such areas as e-business, biotechnology and engineering.  As part of this series, we are working with UW-Oshkosh, UW-Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Area Technical College to sponsor briefings together to showcase our respective resources for business.  It’s a great example of how we can work together for the good of the state and at the same time highlight our respective areas of expertise.

As we go down this road into the future of Wisconsin, I believe we all need to crash through some of the old ideas of the past, and move into the challenges of the 21st Century together.  From what I’ve seen behind the wheel, we are beginning to do just that, which makes the distance between Madison and Milwaukee closer than you think.


Charles Hoslet is managing director of the Office of Corporate Relations at UW-Madison.  This commentary is based on remarks he made at the WIN Foundation luncheon in Milwaukee on Feb. 14, 2005.