Northwestern Mutual to relocate thousands of jobs, invest $500M into downtown campus

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — Just five years after opening the second tallest office tower in Wisconsin, a company that has called Milwaukee home for more than 165 years is, in its words, “doubling down” on its commitment to downtown.

On Thursday, Feb. 2, on the 32nd floor of their Tower and Commons building, Northwestern Mutual announced a $500 million investment into their downtown campus.

“We believe that a world class campus will foster more connection and more collaboration both within our walls and across our city,” Northwestern Mutual President & CEO John Schlifske said.

Schlifske started his speech by saying he felt déjà vu, remembering when he announced the Tower and Commons project a decade ago. He shared the company’s vision for the campus: a revamp of their 540,000-square-foot North office on 818 Mason Street, built in 1990, to mirror the Tower and Commons. Along with a new glassy facade, the change will also bring more employees to Milwaukee.

“While our buildings in Franklin, Wisconsin have served us well for 20 years, we believe it’s time to bring all of our Wisconsin-based employees together to our downtown location upon completion of this project,” Schlifske said.

Over three to five years, nearly 2,000 employees will be relocated from Franklin to Downtown Milwaukee, with selling or leasing possibilities for the soon-to-be empty buildings.

With the facelift to their north office building, the company hopes to encourage more in-person work.

“Just like I tell people, you wouldn’t zoom into a family dinner, you need to be together to have that family, and that’s what we need our employees to do,” Schlifske said.

“So, the idea is to create a workspace that’s so inviting, so attractive, that people want to come to work, and we’re not forcing them to come to work, it’s more on the voluntary side.”

Schlifske tells CBS 58 that it is currently, on any given day, 70% of their downtown employees are physically on campus. Before the pandemic, that number was 84.

The closing of the two Franklin buildings means over 5,000 people will work for the company in Milwaukee, an economic boost the mayor is excited about.

“This is a company that has a  national presence, probably a global presence, and could go anywhere for this sort of expansion, but they’re choosing to make this investment in the City of Milwaukee. That says we’re headed in the right direction,” Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said.

With the influx of workers, CBS 58 asked Schlifske if there are any housing projects planned for current and future employees.

“We have to look at the entirety of this project, including transportation, parking and housing,” he said. “You know, we built the ‘7SVENTY7 Van Buren.’ That’s been a huge home run, but we’re just beginning to think about that.”

The city is also allowing a developer-funded tax increment financing (TIF) plan for the investment.

“To complement Northwestern Mutual’s investment, the city is advancing a financing tool that adds value without imposing a burden on city taxpayers,” Mayor Johnson said. “Over the long run, the city’s participation adds tax base and economic strength to Milwaukee.

Another aspect of this plan is the focus on working with minority, women and veteran contractors. Choosing to work with these contractors and collaborating with city employees is something Schlifske said they also did with the Tower and Commons project.

Construction on the 19-story north building is set to begin at the end of this year, with completion slated for 2027.

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