On her first day working for the chamber of commerce in 2008, Corry Joe Biddle attended a networking event at Mikey’s, a now-defunct bar in Cathedral Square. Biddle, who grew up on the North Side and had planned to leave her hometown to move to a bigger city, was stunned by the fancy venue. “I thought it would be like an Applebee’s, but it was exactly what I pictured when I imagined going out with friends after work in a big city,” she says. The only downside? Biddle was one of just two people of color at the event.
It’s been more than a decade since that event, and thanks to Biddle and others with like minds, a lot has changed. The city’s deep-rooted segregation, and its effects on people of color and the city as a whole, are precisely the problems the 42-year-old addresses in her roles as vice president of community affairs for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and executive director of FUEL Milwaukee.
“If you grew up in Milwaukee, you often only know the area you grew up in,” she says. Frustrated by what they see as a lack of equity, people of color – and, Biddle says, young white people who value diversity and inclusion – are fleeing Milwaukee for bigger cities with better opportunities.
Biddle is looking to halt that with her work in FUEL, an organization that focuses on connecting young professionals to the community they call home and expanding the network so it reflects the region’s diversity. When inclusion is on the line, decisions like where events are advertised, speakers, venues and music aren’t inconsequential. “Until you start to diversify those things, you can’t diversify the membership.” Since Biddle started as executive director in 2011, FUEL’s membership has grown to incorporate 30% people of color.
In her role at MMAC, Biddle works with local businesses to address racial inequity and, as a result, attract more talent and business to the city. She’s spearheading Making Milwaukee a Region of Choice, an initiative that equips companies to hire more Black and brown employees and managers. So far, 120 local companies have signed the pledge, and the initiative is on track to meet its 2025 goal.
Whether she’s planning a networking event or coaching a local business, creating a city everyone feels at home in is at the forefront of Biddle’s mind. “It’s not too late for any of us to shift our focus to greater equity and true community inclusion,” she says. “I really pray for the day that we all feel that way about each other in Milwaukee. What a beautiful place that would be to live.”