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Addressing Unemployment in the Central City

Off the Cuff with Milwaukee JobsWork’s Bill Krugler

Mar. 21, 2017
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In 2011, Milwaukee JobsWork President and Founder Bill Krugler retired as managing director of Mason Wells, the largest private equity firm in Wisconsin. Rather than submit to an easy retirement, Krugler intended to use his business acumen to help alleviate poverty in Milwaukee by addressing one of the central city’s most pertinent and persistent problems: chronic unemployment. Focused both on the individual and the community, Milwaukee JobsWork is a nonprofit that places motivated, unemployed individuals in jobs in addition to assisting small businesses by facilitating connections with local institutions. Off the Cuff recently spoke with Krugler about helping small businesses, championing the individual and what Milwaukee can do better. 

How did JobsWork do in 2016?

We currently have 50 individuals that are actively with us. Most of them, probably 45 of them, are actively working and the other five are either working or are working through some other issues that they need to address before they work. Of those 50 about 10 of them have actually reached the point of having a job that they’ve been able to sustain enough to lift them out of poverty. Our goal is to take in approximately 100 new people in the course of a year. One of the things that is a pinnacle of what we do is we say that we work with motivated individuals that are living in poverty that want to change their circumstances. The motivation piece is really key to us and that means that I don’t care what you bring to the table—issues you’ve had in the past or the background you bring … We work with people who are homeless, who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. We work with people who are convicted felons, so whatever you’re bringing to the table, it’s okay as long as you want to change your life.

How does JobsWork help small businesses?

We actually have two programs within Milwaukee JobsWork. We have what we call Employee Development, which is focused on individuals living in poverty in the city of Milwaukee. And then the second program we have is called Small Business Development. One of the other challenges in the central city of Milwaukee is that there aren’t a lot of businesses and that makes it difficult for people living in the city. One of the barriers people have is transportation; they don’t have access to an automobile or they may not have a valid driver’s license, so getting to businesses in the suburbs is a challenge. Our goal is to actually help create and grow small businesses in the central city of Milwaukee … The way that we do that is we have relationships with what we characterize as anchor institutions that are large organizations deeply embedded in Milwaukee … We try to identify small businesses in the city that could be a supplier to these large anchor institutions and we try to help them grow their business. We provide mentorship to the small business entrepreneur all free of charge to the business. 

What can the community do better to help the chronically unemployed?

The other thing I think we need to do as a community is we all need to collaborate more. There are so many nonprofits and unfortunately sometimes they work in their own silos, and they’re very much focused on trying to do everything for the people that they serve and it’s really impossible to do everything really well. So, what we try to do is link ourselves with other organizations that are really good at what they do so that we don’t have to build capability in ourselves.   

To learn more about Milwaukee JobsWork visit milwaukeejobswork.org or call 414-249-5948. 

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