Julia Taylor became the first woman president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee in 2002.
She retired earlier this year after nearly two decades holding that position.
What went into that decision?
Taylor sat down with WTMJ’s Libby Collins as part of WTMJ Conversations. Listen in the player above.
A portion of the conversation was transcribed below, courtesy of eCourt Reporters, Inc.
LIBBY COLLINS: Let’s go then to how you ended up with the Greater Milwaukee Committee, because you had spent 10 years in Bay City with the Y, you spent what, another 15 years here?
JULIA TAYLOR: Yeah, 15, 16 years here.
LIBBY COLLINS: For 25, 26 years of your career, you were with the YWCA, why did you decide it was time for a change?
JULIA TAYLOR: Part of it was we had been through a few capital campaigns, I had gotten to know people in the business community. I think I also realized that we needed a bigger platform for change, that we could make some changes within the YW and the communities we worked in, but some of these issues were regional issues in that we really needed to figure out how to work on it regionally. And so, there had been a committee put together within the GMC that was actually around the time of the county pension — the first county pension crisis, and there were subcommittees on it, and there was one on regional cooperation, and Jim Forbes had asked me if I would co-chair that. And it was — it was an interesting committee, and we looked at different models. And then at the — in the middle of that was when Bob Milbourne took the job, the position in Columbus, Ohio.
So, the position opened up, and, again, I had friends who said, oh, Julia, you should apply for it. And it’s like, right, they’re going to hire a woman and somebody from a nonprofit? Give me a break.
LIBBY COLLINS: Who wasn’t originally from Wisconsin.
JULIA TAYLOR: Right, and not originally from Wisconsin, but they did hire me, to my surprise.
LIBBY COLLINS: So, you were the first woman.
JULIA TAYLOR: Yeah.
LIBBY COLLINS: Now, why was that a big deal though?
JULIA TAYLOR: Well, I think because the — it had been a predominantly male organization in the past. And I think probably still today, many of the CEO’s are still male in Milwaukee, but it was — it was a real switch to go that direction. Jim Forbes, who was the chair of the board really wanted to see it develop more as a civic organization and have a stronger nonprofit structure, have more engagement of all the members, because we had 175 members, and they were not all engaged.
LIBBY COLLINS: Were they all enthusiastic to have a woman at the head?
JULIA TAYLOR: I was very warmly welcomed. So, I think all people wanted was change and action.
LIBBY COLLINS: So, this was in what year?
JULIA TAYLOR: 2002, I got hired at the — at the end of that year.
LIBBY COLLINS: So, this was shortly after 9/11.
JULIA TAYLOR: Right.
LIBBY COLLINS: The country was a little bit different then.
JULIA TAYLOR: Right.
LIBBY COLLINS: We were all united.
JULIA TAYLOR: Right.
LIBBY COLLINS: As a country, we had a common goal that we wanted to — wanted to defeat terrorism, we wanted a safe country, a safe community for all, but things have changed a great deal since then.
JULIA TAYLOR: Yeah.
LIBBY COLLINS: Talk a little bit about that transition from having an atmosphere where everyone had a common goal to what it’s become now with a lot of changes and a lot of problems.
JULIA TAYLOR: Well, there’s certainly been a lot of divisions. I’ve always been a person that’s a big believer in relationships in that building relationships can sometimes cross big divides and you can find mutual things to work on. And so, that’s kind of how I’ve lived my life within the GMC. I try to build strong relationships with the members, with elected officials, understanding that there’s times we’re going to be on board on things and there’s times we’re not going to agree, but we respect each other as individuals, and we know that there’s times we need to rely on each other.
And so, that’s been — you know, it’s — I will say it’s gotten more difficult in recent years with the more stark divisions that are out there, but, you know, I have many Democrats I count as friends, I have many Republicans I count as friends. And I’m not afraid to pick up the phone and talk to anybody.
LIBBY COLLINS: What was the greatest challenge that you faced in all your years at the GMC?
JULIA TAYLOR: I think the hardest one was really, we came very close to get — to getting a funded regional transit authority in the southern — in four counties. And what really fell apart on it was, we were — we were also focusing on a commuter rail that would connect with Kenosha up to Milwaukee, and I just — I felt very strongly that it would be a real answer, because there was so much growth going south for, especially, the unemployment that existed in Milwaukee. It would be a low-cost transit connector, and so — and plus it would also connect the buses. That was the other thing we really wanted to work on, because right now it’s not a very well-connected system. If you’ve got to use a bus to Milwaukee and then get on one in Racine, it’s really, really difficult. So, we had that, we got it in the legislation, in the governor’s budget, Jim Doyle’s budget. We got it into law, but then the next cycle, Jim Doyle was no longer governor and the whole thing was pulled out. And then there was a regional transit authority established for Madison and Green Bay and they were all pulled out.
So, we never did get that done, and that was a really hard moment to kind of lose on that one, because I felt like it would have been such a game changer for the region.
LIBBY COLLINS: Do you see now, with what they’ve done in Washington with the infrastructure bill, is there a chance that this could return as a possibility for this area?
JULIA TAYLOR: Well, I saw some discussion the other day about commuter rail again. I think if we could even just get a better transit system that operates with buses and movers. The last mile is still a big issue for people with where bus lines end and where jobs are, but, you know, it shouldn’t be — it shouldn’t be that hard to do, but at some point, we’re getting — we’ll get that done. It does depend a lot on regional cooperation, everybody has to want it.
And I spent some time, actually, when Madison was putting together its regional economic development group, I got invited to go along. And we met with John Hickenlooper, who was then the mayor of Denver before he was governor, and he was talking about regional cooperation. And one of the big things that they did there was their transit system, which really connects all the way up to Boulder. I mean, it’s a remarkable system that they — they’ve invested in in that — I think it’s nine counties.