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Milwaukee Utilizes a Private Public Partnership (P3) to develop smart city infrastructure

Milwaukee, WI, USA

At a Glance

As the largest city in Wisconsin, Milwaukee finds itself at the forefront of the state's innovation. To develop its smart city infrastructure, Milwaukee collaborated with the Midwest Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) in a public private partnership to create a strategic plan.

Problem Addressed

Milwaukee sits as the largest city in the state of Wisconsin, with a population of almost 600,000. Undergoing a construction boom downtown, the city has added new features including the Riverwalk, Miller Park, and the Fiserv Forum. This contributes to its strong economic development strategy with an emphasis on water technology, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

But if the city wanted to keep up with rapidly developing innovation, it needed to prioritize modernization and information technology. With Mayor Tom Barrett's quest to "build a shared and more inclusive vision for Milwaukee's greater downtown" and support having their "downtown pump energy and vitality into every one of [their] neighborhoods," smart city innovation was top of mind.

To guide these initiatives, the city needed a cohesive vision that guided proactive steps on being a smarter and more sustainable community through private and academic sector partnerships.

Milwaukee used/is using the Smart Tech Milwaukee Plan to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

To begin creating its smart city framework, Milwaukee partnered with the Midwest Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) and Nutter Consulting to create the Smart Tech Milwaukee strategic plan.

The city and M-WERC participated in a smart cities workshop, which resulted in a summary and overarching smart city strategy framework for the partners to build on in 2017. This laid the foundation for the M-WERC "Smart Cities Technology" working group, which included industry experts from water and energy technology companies, representatives from the government, and regional partners from M-WERC. Guided by Nutter Consulting, the city aimed to leverage the expertise of public and private partners, while giving a comprehensive view of available technology and potential opportunities.

The city’s goals aimed at advancing water infrastructure, low carbon technology, transportation and mobility, food and community engagement, and IT and Data. Looking at other cities' success stories, partners were able to recommend concrete technology and procedures for addressing these needs. Each suggestion is accompanied by a case study detailing how another city solved a similar problem within their community. The plan additionally covers best practices for financial modeling and alternative funding.

Key recommendations include: hiring a program manager to head the effort, leveraging public-private partnerships, centralizing all community engagement onto a singular platform to connect workers and financial systems to the citizens, adopting a hotel carrier model to maximize funding, looking for additional funds in contingent payment programs and energy performance contracts, and pilot a vendor management system to increase overall transparency.


  1. Clear vision for city staff, academic, and private sector partners on their goals, their underlying purpose, and the best practices to achieve them
  2. Tangible, evidence-based solutions for innovative water infrastructure, low carbon technology, transportation, citizen engagement, and IT goals
  3. Recommendations on how to manage the project either through a project manager or committee model while leveraging public-private partnerships
  4. Ideas for increased connectivity across workers, financial systems, and the residents - creating a framework that centralizes all community engagement processes to one platform
  5. Unique plans for obtaining funding for a city in its smart city planning phase, including P3s, contingent payment programs, and energy performance contracts

Something Unique

As recommended by the strategic plan, the city wanted to implement smart kiosks to facilitate use of a new streetcar line and local economic development. In 2019, partners helped the city develop the RFP used to get smart kiosks implemented in February 2020.

Who Should Consider?

Cities looking to develop their smart city infrastructure while meeting a diverse set of goals from the public, private, and academic sectors.

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