For more than 150 years, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce has been uniting the local business community to promote growth and investment. Today, the MMAC represents 1,800 member businesses with more than 300,000 employees throughout the four-county metro area. But its roots were much more humble.
In February 1861, a delegation of prominent Milwaukee businessmen visited Philadelphia and witnessed what that city’s business community was able to accomplish as a group. Upon their return, these delegates and other leaders met on March 5, in the back of John Nazzro’s Hardware Store (now the 200 north block of Water Street) to draw up a constitution and bylaws. The Milwaukee Merchants Association was born.
In the early years, the Association adopted the custom of hosting a formal annual banquet and sending trade delegations to such far-flung locales as Minnesota. The group also played a role in raising a company for the Civil War.
Taxes & Development Dominate Agenda
By the turn of the century, the Association was already focusing on issues that would become familiar objectives: lobbying against taxes and working to attract new business to the city. According to minutes from an 1898 meeting, “the tax system in Wisconsin is bad and constantly growing worse.” By 1902, the Association’s paid staff person was devoting much of his time to inducing manufacturers to move to Milwaukee.
Association Backs Tech School
By 1904, the Association saw the need to develop a skilled workforce and raised the money necessary to establish the Milwaukee School of Trades (today Bradley Tech). Wood floors from that original gymnasium were re-installed in the MMAC’s office when it was remodeled in 2010.
As the business community’s issues grew increasingly complex, the Association added its first staff member dedicated to the Legislative Committee in 1911 and added staff to its Transportation Division in 1917.
City Celebrates 100th Birthday
The Association played a leading role in sponsoring Milwaukee’s 100th anniversary celebration in 1946, dubbed “Centurama.”
In 1953, the Association formed a sports committee to bring the Braves Baseball team to Milwaukee—an initiative that was reprised to keep the Milwaukee Brewers in Milwaukee almost 50 years later.
Promoting Jet Planes and Freeways
The 1960s and 1970s witnessed a number of transportation firsts—all strongly backed by the Association—including the first jet service at Mitchell International (1962) and a campaign to include the proposed “high-level harbor bridge" (today’s Hoan Bridge) in the interstate system, thus securing 90% of the costs through the federal government in 1972.
Reflecting the struggles of the times, in 1971, the Association launched its Milwaukee Urban Improvement Program, focused on training and providing jobs for the “hard-core unemployed, Vietnam Vets and disadvantaged youth.”
The Association continued to meet growing demands from members for specialized services with the formation of its Council of Small Business Executives and Milwaukee: First in Quality in 1986.
Chamber Expands Reach and Services
In the 1990s, the Association, now re-branded to reflect its regional nature as the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, continued to expand its programming with world-wide trade missions, events with legislators in Washington, the Future 50 program and the launch of a $13 million scholarship program for MPS high school students.
In 1995, the MMAC led the charge to finance and build a new stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers—Miller Park—which opened in 2001.
The MMAC was also successful in backing the first parental school choice voucher program for religious and secular schools in the nation in 1995, paving the way for choice and charter schools that today educate more than 20,000 students annually in Milwaukee.
FUELING Our Future
With the turn of a new century, the MMAC’s commitment to core business issues, such as education, infrastructure and business development, are stronger than ever. Recognizing the growing need to attract and retain talent—especially young talent—in the region,the MMAC launched Young Professionals of Milwaukee in 2001. Later renamed FUEL Milwaukee, this MMAC service helps companies recruit talent and engage employees in their community. With nearly 6,000 members, FUEL remains one of the largest organizations of its kind in the country.
Economic Development Focus Intensifies
The Milwaukee 7 was formed in 2005 as a joint effort of the MMAC, the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the City of Milwaukee. This regional collaborative economic development partnership has been instrumental in more than 100 projects related to growing jobs in this region thus far.
The MMAC is proud of its accomplishments. But it is the future and the potential of this great region that drives our efforts and our resources. Thank you to our members for their continued investment in this organization. Without your support, none of this would have been possible.