Vincent Lyles: Taking the Positive Approach

“It can be done” – Vincent Lyles says that’s a lesson that successful economic development in Indianapolis can teach other urban centers around the country.

That phrase also sums up Lyles’ attitude about the work he does as president of M&I Community Development Corporation — and, in many ways, it summarizes Lyles’ personality.

Describing his work Wednesday at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session at the Law School, Lyles said, “Part of our expectation in life is that tomorrow is going to be better, so let’s keep working.”

The community development arm of M&I Bank has a portfolio of about $100 million in investments in low- and middle-income communities, Lyles said, and makes about $15 to $20 million a year in new investments. “That’s not a big number, but it’s not a small number, either,” he said.

It is not a charity effort. 

The goal is to fund projects such as housing efforts where the CDC can join with partners, often community organizations, in financing a project. “We do want substantial return,” Lyles said. “The bottom line is, we’re a business.”

Lyles said there are more good things going on in areas such as the central city of Milwaukee than many people realize, and he is convinced investments such as the ones in which he is involved can both build up a community and make a profit. The CDC has investments in six urban areas in the United States, including Milwaukee.

“I dream about Milwaukee being a place that is thriving,” he said, and hard economic times in the city have not changed that goal for him. “The older I get, the more and more I believe in tomorrow,” he said. He wants a good future for his daughters, now 8 and 11, and he wants them to be able to consider Milwaukee a good place to make their own lives as adults.

Lyles is a graduate of Milwaukee’s Madison High School and has both an undergraduate degree and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He was previously an investment banker at Robert W. Baird & Co. and was executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission. He continues to have a strong interest in politics, but said he is not interested in running for office himself.

Lyles told an audience of more than 100, many of them students, that his law degree had been an invaluable help to him in his career, even though he does not work for a law firm. His law school courses readied him to handle not only many of the matters he works with now – bonds and borrowing, to name two examples – but it also prepared him to deal with the human issues involved in succeeding in his work.

“At the end of the day, it really is about people,” he said. The human factor is central to the success of  his projects, and personal relationships with others, including elected officials, open doors and convince people that you can be counted on to do your part of a project.

To those who think that major improvements are not going to come in low income areas, Lyles points to no-smoking bans in restaurants and other public places. A generation ago, he said, the suggestion that smoking shouldn’t be allowed in such places would have drawn laughs. Now, they’re a fact. “We can solve any problem that is out there,” he said.

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