Congratulations to M7’s Rebecca Gries, who recently was named to Consultant Connect’s 2022 list of North America’s Top 50 Economic Developers and promoted to M7 Vice President of Corporate Attraction and Expansion.
In her role, she markets Southeastern Wisconsin to attract companies looking to expand or relocate, and assists them through their decision process. She also helps companies already located here find the resources they need to continue growing. A native of Dousman, Wisconsin, Gries has a political science degree from St. Norbert College and a master’s in global policy from Loyola (Chicago) University. Recently, Milwaukee Commerce caught up with Rebecca to learn a little more about her and the work she does for M7:
Q: What are some memorable projects you’ve worked on?
A: That is a hard one because each is unique and adds something different to the community. Last year, Generac Power Systems approached us because they were looking to invest in the company and expand their employee base, and they were considering doing that in multiple locations including the M7 region. Over five months M7 and our state and local partners worked with the Generac team, and ultimately, they chose to put 700 new jobs in the State of Wisconsin. It was amazing to work with a company that is changing and innovating in front of our eyes and started right here in my backyard and chose to continue to grow those roots here. Another great one is OpenGov, a software company that started in Silicon Valley. It was fun working with a tech-based company and it really proved that Milwaukee is a great location for the software industry, as well as advanced manufacturing which we are known for. There is one more, in particular, I am very excited about but can’t talk about yet.
Q: Why did this work interest you?
A: Selling Southeastern Wisconsin -- a place I grew up in and a place I love – to the rest of the world was really exciting. And getting to know different companies and working with our partners across the region and state who are also passionate about this work is amazing.
Q: What are some trends you’re seeing in economic development?
A: Workforce used to be ranked third, fourth, or even fifth in companies’ minds when they are making a location decision. Now if it’s not number one, it’s number two. So we have had to change some of the ways we sell Southeastern Wisconsin because of the new emphasis on being near or attracting workforce. And the rise of automation goes hand in hand with workforce challenges. If companies can’t find enough talent, turning to automation is another option. It’ll be interesting to see how that will be influential in our local and state policies as well as education programs and see how that will shift economic development moving forward.
Q: What did the Consultant Connect award mean to you?
A: There are a lot of site selectors and consultants that keep track of this kind of thing, and it brings a spotlight to Milwaukee and our region. It was also really reassuring. Especially since I didn’t even know this job existed three and a half years ago, and I’ve just been slowly learning and trying to understand what I’m doing, trying to get better at it and make the right connections and relationships. Just knowing that I’m on the right track is a real confidence booster and helps me move forward.
Q: What are some of your favorite things to do in the Milwaukee Region?
A: Since we’re getting into the summer months, beer gardens and wineries with friends, family – and my dog! Being on a boat, the lake or a river – there are so many options to be on some body of water. And I’m not an amazing golfer, but the ability to golf on a really cool course at a reasonable price is fantastic, my husband and I really enjoy it. Lastly, supper clubs are such a unique environment in Wisconsin, and we love the community and homey atmosphere - we are determined to find the best fish fry in town.
Q: You have visitors in from out of town. Where do you take them?
A: If it’s the summer months, I try to get them on a boat. People are shocked by the skyline and all the really cool things to do along the river. For a prospect, typically I want to bring them to a restaurant that shows off good Wisconsin food. Anything that has a great view of the city or the lake is my go-to. And I love providing tours for prospects – I’m a history buff and I tend to get really excited to show off Downtown Milwaukee and the amazing communities throughout the M7 region.
Q: What is a book, podcast or streaming show you would recommend to others?
A: The Plain English with Derek Thompson podcast is fantastic. He’s an Atlantic writer, and he takes topics in the headlines and breaks them down and makes them more digestible. For two streaming shows: WeCrashed, which is based on WeWork, and The Dropout, talking about Theranos. It’s interesting how we, as a genre, are looking at startup culture and Silicon Valley and how looking back at these companies we can better understand how that world works and how it has changed how we do business as a society.
Q: Who is your favorite historical figure and why?
A: This is a hard one because I love history. But one that always pops into my head first is Teddy Roosevelt. He obviously, like most past presidents, has done some controversial things. But I think he was so influential in his time and very progressive. He started the national parks system, challenged monopolies, and built up our international relations policy. What he did really reverberated through our history and had a lasting impact. Modern-day past presidents from both sides of the aisle have held him up as a person of influence for them.
Q: What’s a piece of Milwaukee history that you enjoy sharing with visitors?
A: The three main founders of Milwaukee all hated each other, and two of the main founders, Juneau and Kilbourn, really hated each other. The Milwaukee River divided their territories, and they did not want people from each other’s communities passing over into the others. So they intentionally built roads so they wouldn’t line up properly. If you notice on a map, if you’re looking down at Milwaukee, most of our bridges are on angles to connect those roads. It’s a fascinating part of history that you can still see today.