Monday, December 8, 2008

SEWRPC Posting Points Readers to Upscale Dining, Stale Data

SEWRPC's website contains links to economic profiles it prepares for the region's cities and counties under the heading "Economic Development," but someone at the regional planning agency ought to take a close look at the information in these profiles.

With nothing better to do on a cold and snowy weekend then peruse the SEWRPC site, I stopped at the list of three "largest banks" on the City of Milwaukee's profile and called 227-1111, the phone number for Bank One of Wisconsin, at the top of the SEWRPC-prepared list.

I didn't get a banker, I didn't even get a bank's voicemail.

But I did end up learning about a 10-ounce, $16 signature Chophouse Burger with smoked bacon, Boursin cheese and carmelized red onions, and a host of other scrumptious sounding meals, because 227-1111 connects to Kincaid's Restaurant at 1110 North Old 3rd World St., a relatively new and upscale chop, seafood and steakhouse.

These days you'd get more value investing in a meal at Kincaid's than, say, forking over money to buy your typical bank's common stock, but I don't think that's why 227-1111 remains printed in SEWRPC's online economic profile for the City of Milwaukee.

Seems SEWRPC didn't take note of the 2004 buyout of Bank One of Wisconsin by J. P. Morgan Chase, creating the current Chase Bank, which is the name prominently displayed on what had been the iconic blue-tinted glass Marine Bank tower on Water St. and Wisconsin Ave., in downtown Milwaukee.

Photo here.

Maybe these things would be clearer to SEWRPC if they were located in downtown Milwaukee, and not out in an office park in Pewaukee - - again begging the question of whether Milwaukeeans are getting much out of the 100% taxpayer-supported Pewaukee-based regional planning operation?

The SEWRPC website says the economic profiles are "updated periodically," but how useful are they if the data can get so stale?

For the City of Milwaukee profile (I saw the same patterns for Racine and Waukesha, too, so I stopped there), the revision date is listed as December, 2004, or four years ago, so let's take a look at some of the data categories:

Population - - 2004, estimated, 593,920. But the US Census bureau issued a more recent estimate reported by the Journal Sentinel in July, 2008 of 602,191.

See what I mean?

If I can find fresher data in 20 minutes on a PC using Google, imagine how meaty this report could be if a SEWRPC statistician spent a day surfing the web or calling contacts and colleagues in other agencies.

Housing households and unit type information - - 2000.

Building permits - - 2003.

Anyone call the City Department of Development of the State Department of Revenue, or Administration, for newer figures, or leads on where to find them, since 2004?

Actually, some newer data is even closer: The profile says the Milwaukee County median annual income is $30,456 - - for 2002.

But on another site - - here - - also accessible right off the SEWPRC economic development webpage, a more up-to-date profile uses 2006 data and puts the income figure more than 10% higher - - $34,128.

Left hand, meet the right hand.

The profile also says that using 2000 figures, the median housing rental rate in the city was $527, and the vacancy rate was 6%.

An industry magazine in 2007 put the Milwaukee rental vacancy rate at 4.8% - - a difference of 20% from the profile's 2000 number - - and the average rental (not the same as median) at $807.

Equalized value and tax rate - - 2003. (the City Assessor's website is chock full of 2007 data, here.)

Public High School graduates, and graduation rate - - 2003. But a quick Internet search shows 2007 data published in 2008.

Average ACT scores - - 2003. The profile says "Wisconsin scored the highest in the nation on the American College Test, (ACT), but a 2008 local news story says the state's ranking was #3.

The profile says the City of Milwaukee has 2,762 full-time police department positions, undated.

But the city's Fire and Police Commission 2007 data from the department says it has 2,041 actual sworn positions, with 2,112 budgeted.

Is the difference a matter of semantics? Definitions? Civilian employees not being counted?

More importantly, what's a useful and up-to-date figure?

Someone at SEWRPC has to sit down and gather newer numbers to redo these profiles - - if the goal is to provide a real public service.

If not, drop the pretense.

There's also that private sector information in the profile, too, but again, how useful is it?

Remember Bank One morphing into a steakhouse?

Under Transportation, Railway Service, the profile puts the Wisconsin Central, Ltd. in a list of four railroads, but Wisconsin Central was taken over by Canadian National in 2001.

Anyone for updating the rail planning priority at SEWRPC?


Anonymous said...

From the lag in posting current data, the organization sounds more like a lumbering dinosaur than the snappy, cutting edge organization Southeastern Wisconsin needs to compete in the 21st century. Who's minding the store out there?

Unknown said...

You seem to be disappointed in the quality of the SEWRPC website. Do you think the planners for SEWRPC might have other work to do besides updating the website? Do you think there is a chance that they might be understaffed? Maybe you should offer the data you gathered and a suggestion that the website could use some work before diving onto the web with this series of redundant charges.

James Rowen said...

To Leonard: SEWRPC is an old boys' network in Sleepy Hollow.

Anonymous said...

Is the M-7 much better?

Anonymous said...

If you have nothing better to do on a cold, snowy weekend than look at SEWRPC's website, you need a life. Go see a movie!

James Rowen said...

I'm thinking "Chinatown."