Go behind the scenes with Jim Paetsch on how M7 recruits companies to Southeastern Wisconsin
When Jim Paetsch makes his initial pitch to a company that may be interested in moving to the Milwaukee Region, you might expect him to take over the meeting with a filibuster of statistics about our business-friendly environment, skilled work force, high quality of life and reasonable cost of living.
But Paetsch, the Executive Director and Senior Vice President for Corporate Expansion and Attraction at the Milwaukee 7 Partnership for Economic Development, keeps that part surprisingly short – at least at the beginning.
“Initial meetings are about starting to build that trust, getting them to understand what my role is and how I can help,” Paetsch says. “But much more importantly, it’s a bad meeting if I’m doing all the talking. If that’s taken more than 60 seconds, that’s too long. Then I start asking questions.”
“It would be unusual for me to walk out of a meeting not having a pretty decent feel for what’s important to that company, and what they’re thinking about doing,” Paetsch says.
Recently, Paetsch walked Milwaukee Commerce through all the behind-the-scenes work he and the M7 team have done on a new business attraction project – a project that, as of our deadline, was not quite ready to announce to the public yet. (Stay tuned!)
In late 2020, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. told Paetsch about a Northern Illinois-based industrial equipment manufacturer that may be interested in moving to Southeastern Wisconsin. Paetsch reached out to the company – a mid-size, family-held business – and set up an initial meeting at their current headquarters.
After some discussion about our tax climate and workforce, they jumped into more specific details. And while real estate isn’t necessarily the most important aspect of a business attraction project, Paetsch says it can serve as a good organizing principle
“So, for example, let’s just say somebody tells you, ‘We need 300,000 square feet,’” Paetsch says. “Well, that starts to narrow what’s possible really quickly because there just aren’t a lot of buildings with 300,000 square feet that are vacant. Another thing that real estate does is it gets you thinking about labor access, it gets you thinking about logistics. It’s a really good way to narrow down, and understand better what’s important to the company.”
The process is deliberate, because the stakes are high for the company -- just to build the shell of an industrial building, for example, will cost approximately $115 per square foot.
“That’s serious money for a company,” Paetsch says. “This is where the inquiry part of this is so important. It’s getting a feel for how this facility gets used. Some companies might say, ‘We don’t want a showplace, we don’t bring customers here, we want something that’s economical.’ You pick your attribute. It’s hard to identify the right real estate play until you know what’s important to them. They know their company way better than we ever will.”
This process is uniquely challenging for smaller companies. While a large company may look at new locations globally all the time, a smaller company might consider moving once in a generation – or not at all.
“This is a process that most of them just aren’t used to,” Paetsch says. “Being able to give them a roadmap, help them navigate, be with them every step of the way and give them advice when it’s appropriate gives them a full picture for operating in Southeastern Wisconsin.”
Based on the company’s feedback, Paetsch and the M7 team determined that building a new facility, rather than finding an existing building, would best suit their needs. One important factor: The company wanted to retain as many of its current employees as possible, so a site near the Wisconsin/Illinois border was a priority. From an initial list of several sites, they narrowed in on three potential sites in two counties.
M7 then put the company in touch with advisors to help with every step of the process, including architectural and construction firms.
“We have a really good, deep, trusted network. So when we don’t know the answers to things, we know who to ask, and we know how to shortcut that in a way that makes things simple for the company,” Paetsch says. “We want it to be a one-stop shop. No company has the patience to talk to 30 different people to figure out if this is the right play. They’d rather just deal with one, and then I deal with the 30 people we need to put the deal together.”
Having collaborative, high-functioning relationships with M7’s partners – WEDC, the governor’s office, municipalities, the counties, professional service providers – is critical. “M7 is not capable on its own to put these things together,” Paetsch says. “We need to work closely with others. I think building those relationships is critical, but having those relationships is what makes the work fun.”
Since M7’s founding in 2005, it has produced 121 project wins providing more than 25,000 jobs, with a combined payroll of $1.5 billion and $3.8 billion in new capital investment. Paetsch has played a key role in most of them – and may soon put another win on the board through his work on the project detailed in this story. But even after a deal is announced, Paetsch and the M7 team will continue to follow up with the company to make sure it has everything it needs to succeed.
“It’s not just about getting to a press event or a ribbon cutting,” Paetsch says. “We want to make sure that when they come here, long term, they can
What makes Paetsch passionate about the work he does? It’s a combination of the satisfaction he gets from helping to create high-value jobs that put more money in more people’s pockets, plus the feeling of accomplishment when he drives past a 150,000 square foot factory with 250 employees that used to be a vacant field.
Competing is fun, too.
“We have a terrific region with lots of different assets,” Paetsch says. “And I like the competitive part of convincing companies that this is the right place to invest. It gets the juices flowing a little bit. And one thing I’ve learned above all else: Winning is much more enjoyable than losing.”