Downtown Milwaukee businesses are bringing on extra staff and investing in upgrades in preparation for this summer’s Democratic National Convention.

Still, business leaders at a recent panel discussion hosted by the Milwaukee Business Journal emphasized that many questions remain less than five months out from the event.

“Clarity is everyone’s best friend,” said Gino Fazzari, head chef and owner of the Calderone Club. “As much clarity as we can get with regard to the hard perimeter, soft perimeter… How can we get employees in? Where are they going to park?”

Organizers with the Democratic National Convention Committee recently announced early details about the security perimeter, but have yet to offer more information about the specific layers within that area. The tentative boundary covers an area of around nine by ten blocks with the Milwaukee river running along its right side.

DNC 2020 is expected to bring more than 50,000 visitors and have a $200 million economic impact with more than 1,000 events across the city.

“What’s the protocol? … Is there a special identification [workers] are going to have to identify them as an employee of a vendor inside the zone?” Fazzari said. “These are things we don’t know yet.”

With entertainment and sporting events happening nearly every week in downtown Milwaukee, Fazzari noted “we’re all feeling the same crunch” due to the ongoing labor shortage. He said that shortage is nothing new but added that finding skilled workers has recently become more difficult.

The Calderone Club has occupied its corner lot downtown for 37 years, and Fazzari explained the restaurant has always hired young people from colleges in the area. He and other panelists said they won’t be authorizing any vacation time around the convention, which takes place July 13-16.

While event management companies and restaurants are trying to bolster their respective workforces ahead of DNC 2020, Lakefront Brewery President Russ Klitsch is investing in upgrades at his location. He says the brewery will be booked throughout the convention for private events.

“The parties are going to be the lucrative thing, I think we’re going to make the most money off of that,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of infrastructure building around the place trying to get ourselves ready.”

That includes new AV equipment, renovations to the bar and more outdoor spaces for parties.

Klitsch agreed hiring more workers is “always tough” but said he’ll likely have no choice in order to meet the increased demand.

Monica Jurken, founder of event management company Majic Productions, says she’s hired “a lot of people” over the last few months and plans to bring on many more before this summer.

“We anticipate a really huge demand, but I’m not worried that we won’t fill it,” Jurken said.

Underwood Events founder Mike Underwood has also added more workers in hopes of landing as many DNC event contracts as possible. His business recently went from a three-person team to having 15 event planners.

So far, he says he’s been getting questions about “very large-scale productions” as well as smaller gatherings.

“We certainly anticipate a large influx of inquiries and requests for our services in the coming months,” he said.

By Alex Moe,

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