I’ll be honest: I’ve always had a soft spot for Milwaukee. My sister and brother-in-law live there, and visiting them is always the best. Fun things to do, great people… it’s no wonder why Vogue named Milwaukee the Midwest’s Coolest and Most Underrated City.
The city also has a legacy steeped in innovation, shaped by manufacturing and old-world charm. More and more tech workers are choosing Milwaukee as their home, and the city is experiencing a renaissance. People are taking notice of the city’s evolution over the last decade both as an urban center and a vibrant place to live and work.
Young professionals are drawn to the energy that’s been building in Milwaukee, and the tech scene continues to grow stronger each year. Thanks to a downtown building boom, a thriving food and art scene, affordability and down-to-earth sensibility, Milwaukee is a place where local creatives and technologists of all kinds can thrive.
Thinking about living in Milwaukee? Here’s why tech workers love it.
1. Milwaukee is home to some major advances in tech
Once known as the city that feeds and supplies the world, Milwaukee is a city that’s embraced new and advanced technologies to continue impacting people everywhere. Milwaukee’s tech talent have the opportunity to work on projects that make a difference in the world. During the pandemic alone, embedded tech advances in all kinds of industries (healthcare, manufacturing, etc.) have been essential to the COVID-19 response efforts. Johnson Controls developed emergency HVAC systems for hospitals. GE Healthcare rapidly scaled ventilator development. Rockwell helped vaccine manufacturers scale up for global production, largely due to automation. And Kohl’s quickly pivoted to providing drive-up retail. These companies are also some of the best places to work in Milwaukee.
Tech workers in the region are building amazing careers and applying their skills delivering real products and services that make an impact in their communities and in the world. Milwaukee is also a smart city—with the 6th highest concentration of college students among large metros and a high density of educational and research institutions, continuous innovation is the norm in Milwaukee.
2. Milwaukee’s startup community is booming
Milwaukee has a strong business environment. It’s home to the 5th highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies per capita and 18 Fortune 1,000 headquarters. What does that mean for startups? Milwaukee startups have a lot of large potential customers, and it’s a good place to be for business. Milwaukee is also home to nationally-ranked accelerator program gener8tor, which invests in high-growth startups—and has a proven track record. Bright Cellars was started by two MIT grads who moved the business from Boston to Milwaukee after graduating from the gener8tor program. After that, revenue grew 1,500%, they upped their subscribers to 20,000, grew to 40 employees, and closed a $2.8 million funding round in 2018. Score. Other programs like FOR-M, Jet Constellations, Northwestern Mutual Black Founder Accelerator, YES, Doyenne for Female Founders all support and train new founders. Not convinced yet? Well, Milwaukee was ranked the #2 US city to launch your career.
3. The tech scene is collaborative
The Midwest is known for being a friendly, welcoming place, and this culture extends into the growing tech community, which is glad to come together to help each other out through connections and experience. (Fun fact: Milwaukee is ranked one of America’s most generous cities.) Established in 2019, the Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition is a key player in bringing together entrepreneurs, educators, community organizers and other individuals invested in growing tech talent and innovation in the region. The Coalition puts a spotlight on the vibrant tech community in Milwaukee and works to expand the number of Milwaukee startups and tech companies.
4. Milwaukee is committed to building diverse tech talent
Not only is Milwaukee’s tech scene collaborative, but the startup community is committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Sixty-four employers representing 128,000 metro employees signed the “Region of Choice” pledge, committing to diversify their workplaces. As the community works toward building a more diverse tech ecosystem, tech workers have the opportunity to be a part of this change.
Many programs like i.c.stars Milwaukee, Milky Way Tech Hub and Wisconsin’s affiliate of the National Center of Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) support diverse professionals or offer training to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Even major organizations are stepping up with new diversity initiatives. Northwestern Mutual contributed $20 million in venture capital to Black-founded startups. And the Green Bay Packers teamed up with the Milwaukee Brewers, Bucks, and Microsoft to form the Equity League. This is a new impact investment division of VC fund TitletownTech, and it’s committed to locating, developing and investing in minority entrepreneurs and growth companies that are creating scalable social change. The Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition also works toward building a diverse tech workforce by attracting individuals to the city, up/re-skilling tech workers, and creating an education pipeline to inspire the next generation of talent.
5. Low cost of living. High quality of life.
As the 56th most expensive city in the U.S. (aka, it’s not expensive), Milwaukee offers all of the major benefits of a big city without the big price tag. The average home price in the greater Milwaukee area is $259,500, and it’s even lower in the city. In San Francisco it’s $1,263,813. Milwaukee is also ranked #2 for best cities for newly remote workers, due to its affordability and big city amenities. And with all those city perks, the quality of life is really high. More savings, less stress, fun things to do—all affordable. And don’t be fooled—despite the lower cost of living in Milwaukee, tech salaries are still high and offer a lot more bang for your buck.
6. Downtown Milwaukee is vibrant—and growing
Over the last 15 years, more than $6 billion has been invested in the downtown area in Milwaukee. And the city has another $1.7 billion planned. As the city experiences more growth in the tech sector, new housing units have been added, yet the cost of living in Milwaukee has remained relatively low. Renting an apartment downtown Milwaukee won’t break the bank like it would in New York. And downtown is a great place to be. The city has a vibrant art scene with a world-class art museum (which is also an architectural landmark) and city-wide murals. Sculpture Milwaukee is one of the largest, free outdoor art exhibitions in the US.
7. The festivals
When my sister got married in Milwaukee in July of 2019, it was the weekend of German Fest, Brady Street Festival, the Milwaukee Air & Water Show, and also a Brewers v. Cubs baseball game. So, anyone who says “there’s nothing to do in Milwaukee,” has clearly never been there. There’s always something fun to do in the city. Almost every weekend throughout the summer, the city hosts popular cultural and arts festivals, like Polish Fest, Mexican Fiesta, and more. In December, they host the Christkindlmarket, and in the summer, the huge Summerfest music festival featuring 800 acts on 11 stages takes place for 11 days. There’s even a festival for tech. Summerfest Tech includes a full day of tech programming, pitches, networking, and more. It grows every year and there are plans to expand it even more in 2021. There’s always something fun to do in the city.
8. The food
Milwaukee is also home to an amazing food scene. Vegetarian and farm-to-table restaurants complement Milwaukee’s long tradition of German food the city is known for: sausage, schnitzel, and of course beer and cheese curds. But along with major brewery staples is a growing local craft beer industry. Plus, the neighborhoods of Milwaukee, just a short drive from downtown, offer fun bars and restaurants—as well as tight-knit communities.
9. You’re never too far from nature
Sitting right on Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is an urban city that’s never too far away from nature. All along the lakeshore are greenways, walking and biking paths, marinas, parks and beaches. Yes, there are beaches, right in the city. Outdoor recreation is so much a part of life in Milwaukee, that 90% of residents actually live within a ten-minute walk to a park. Even within the city are preserved nature areas, and the wild beauty in the rest of the state is only a short drive away.