Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, September 26, 2011

Shambarger leverages skills to improve Milwaukee's environment, economy

Creative financing can lead to good environmental work and demonstrate that sustainability initiatives can be good for the economy and the environment, says 2002 alum Erick Shambarger, who is the City of Milwaukee's deputy director of environmental sustainability. "If you are going to make the business case to do an environmental initiative, you need to have an understanding of economics and finance."

Through the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency program Shambarger has helped the city win several grants to increase energy efficiency in homes and city buildings, certify contractors to do the work to make homes energy efficient, and offer financing to businesses and residents.


Erick Shambarger

Under Shambarger's leadership, Me² is taking $13 million of federal grants and leveraging that into $54 million worth of private capital to improve energy efficiency throughout the city. "Our goal is to use these one-time federal funds in creative ways to attract private investment," Shambarger says. "Energy efficiency work is a win-win-win — it helps us reduce our energy bills and our environmental footprint, and it creates local jobs for people to install equipment and upgrade homes and businesses. And Me² is an excellent example of a public private collaboration between the government, non-profits, private financial institutions and contractors, workforce development agencies, and think tanks."

Me² provides incentives and financing to homeowners, education and training, energy–assessment and assistance with rebate paperwork. Shambarger is also managing the installation of a 100-kilowatt wind turbine in the Port of Milwaukee and public charging stations for electric vehicles.

Shambarger served as the mayor's designee on the Flooding Study Task Force to identify solutions to the City's flooding problems. That body issued recommendations in 2011 informed by a 2010 report produced by a La Follette School Workshop in Public Affairs. Shambarger was the city's coordinator for the report, which analyzed programs that would encourage residential property owners to maintain private sanitary sewer laterals. He also coordinated the 2009 workshop report that explored the possible implementation of a pay-as-you-throw fee system that would charge people for municipal solid waste collection according to the amount of waste.

Workshop Reports for the City of Milwaukee

Residential Sewer Lateral Maintenance Program Analysis for the City of Milwaukee prepared by Caroline Ellerkamp, Erin Fifield, Amy Klusmeier, Julie Ruder, and Erik Viel

City of Milwaukee: Impacts of Pay-As-You-Throw Municipal Solid Waste Collection prepared by Catherine Hall, Gail Krumenauer, Kevin Luecke, and Seth Nowak

Milwaukee's Snow and Ice Control Service prepared by Gordon Hintz, Anna Kattlewell, Erick Shambarger, and Tim Sweeney

In the News

Sewer lateral report informs Milwaukee task force, July 11, 2011, La Follette School News

Milwaukee committee hears alumni workshop report on waste collection, fees, August 5, 2009, La Follette School News

"The reports are important to the City of Milwaukee because they inform policymakers, the mayor and city staff about issues affecting the city and its residents," Shambarger says. "For example, the city is moving incrementally toward pay-as-you-throw. The students' presentation to the mayor and his staff went so well, we asked them to return and present to the Public Works Committee that summer."

The reports are also critical to student learning, Shambarger adds. "The workshop gives students practical, on-the-ground experience dealing with problems that we encounter at the local level," he says. "In the real world, analysts have to grapple with data shortcomings. In the workshop, students have to figure out which data are available and how to use the information. That experience is very valuable."

Shambarger's own workshop experience gave him direct exposure to the City of Milwaukee's Budget and Management Division, where he went to work as an economist after graduating from La Follette. He says he has referred to his group's report on snow and ice control, when he worked on the mayor's Accountability in Management initiative that established ways to use performance measures for city departments to improve city services. "In the workshop, we went through the exercise of establishing performance measures for the Department of Public Works," he says. "Looking at it now, I find the measures are a bit more complicated than they needed to be."

For the workshop, Shambarger liaised with the students and their professors as part of his position in the budget office. He also analyzedbudgets for several city departments and administered a program to make city buildings more energy efficient, helped address pollution problems on Bradford Beach by correcting stormwater outfalls, and secured a grant for lead abatement in Milwaukee homes.

He found that his La Follette training gave him the perfect blend of analytical and econometric skills. "I also really liked the flexibility the school has for students to put together a class schedule that suited my career goals and was tailored to my interests," Shambarger says. "I took classes at La Follette, the Law School, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the School of Business and even the College of Engineering."

He earned a certificate in energy analysis and policy in addition to a Master of Public Affairs degree. "That was a really strong career track for me because I blended the environmental education with the economics and policy analysis," he says. "The training and experience made me perfectly suited to run Milwaukee's energy efficiency programs.

"In both of my positions with the City of Milwaukee, I have found that the softer skills of thinking critically about public policy issues and the harder econometric and financial skills make me effective on the job," Shambarger says.

Shambarger started with the City of Milwaukee right after graduating from the La Follette School in 2002. He enrolled the fall after he graduated from Marquette University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy. He knew while he was an undergraduate that he would go on to graduate school to pursue his interest in environmental issues.

The La Follette School proved to be an excellent choice. "I looked at lots of graduate programs — I'm from Nebraska, so I didn't necessarily have ties to Wisconsin," says Shambarger, who researched budgeting issues for former La Follette professor Don Kettl. "At the time, La Follette had a generous financial package to offer, and I ended up staying in Wisconsin."

He says he was not initially interested budgeting, but La Follette alum Rob Cramer, who supervised him during an internship with the Wisconsin Department of Administration's budget office, gave him some good advice that Shambarger passes along when he can: "‘Start your career in the budget office because you'll get a top-down view of the entire organization,' Rob told me. ‘In the budget office, you are dealing with the top people, the department heads, on many issues.' In Milwaukee's budget office, I gained great perspective and got my name out there. In many respects, an agency's budget office is where the policy decisions are made."

Throughout his education and career Shambarger has valued how data can help public affairs practitioners make good policy. "At La Follette I first came to appreciate the sense that if the government is run properly, if it is performance driven, then you, as a public servant, can make a positive difference in the world."