Building a Better City From the Ground Up

MATC Architectural Technology graduate developing homes, offices and apartments across Milwaukee

Mark Feldmann,

September 06, 2023

Michael Emem

I believe real estate is central and essential to how you assess quality of life. There are many, many people dedicated to improving this city. I am trying to be one of those people.

Michael Emem MATC Architectural Technology graduate, developer

Brick by brick, board by board, Michael Emem is determined to build a better Milwaukee.

Born and raised in Milwaukee, he got his first job in construction while attending Milwaukee Public Schools’ Bradley Tech High School. At the age of 20, he won a regional award for designing a house. Two years later, he earned an associate degree in Architectural Technology from Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Today, as president and CEO of Emem Group LLC since 2018, Emem has managed more than $100 million in residential and commercial development projects in the Milwaukee area. 

His project portfolio also includes an arts gallery and museum in the Bronzeville neighborhood, a medical office and community clinic in the Williamsburg neighborhood, and the new home of the Milwaukee Public Museum in the historic Haymarket neighborhood.  

He’s currently developing the new Martin Luther King library branch and apartments in the Harambee neighborhood and 20 duplexes in King Park.

“I believe real estate is central and essential to how you assess quality of life,” Emem said. “There are many, many people dedicated to improving this city. I am trying to be one of those people.”

He certainly has the resume: He’s a Certified Construction Professional, a Master Builder through the Wisconsin Builders Association, and holds a Project Management Certificate from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

Along with his MATC degree, Emem has a bachelor’s degree in finance and real estate from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and in 2015, graduated at the top of his class in Marquette University's ACRE program, designed to expand and support minority representation in the commercial real estate industry. 

At age 25 in 2013, he was recognized by the Milwaukee Business Journal as a 40 Under 40 recipient and was named a Corporate Trailblazer at the Milwaukee Times Black Excellence Awards.

"Michael is a visionary leader and an extremely innovative developer and builder,” said Brian Sonderman, executive director of Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity. “He has deep roots in this city. Michael could focus his time and talents exclusively on high-end projects with large budgets, but he continues to invest in the people and places that make Milwaukee neighborhoods great."

Learning to love construction

Emem grew up on 42nd Street and Garfield Avenue, blocks away from Milwaukee’s Washington Park. As a junior at Bradley Tech, he got a job with Cross Management Services installing cabinets in Milwaukee Public Schools.

“I had a knack for working with my hands,” Emem said. “I started in construction when I was 16, and I never looked back.”

After graduation, he took a job at T.L. Reese Construction, one of the leading Black owned contractors in the region. “I was young and thrown into the fire,” he recalled. “For me, it was a time of significant growth.”

To grow even more, he enrolled in MATC’s Architectural Technology program. At the time, he was a teenage father of a daughter and full-time worker. MATC offered flexibility, affordability, proximity and transferability, he said.

“MATC was the perfect choice for that time in my life,” he said. “MATC had night courses and it was right in my backyard, about a mile and a half from work and three miles from my house.

“As a first-generation college student, I didn’t have a whole lot of money, so I had to pay for most of my college. But I knew I was earning credits that could transfer,” he added. “The knowledge I gained at MATC was paramount in establishing the foundation of what I am doing today.”

After five years at Reese, Emem became construction director at Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity in April 2013, overseeing the construction of new homes and the repairs of many others for low-income owners. In 2015 he took a position as project manager at Wangard Partners Inc. and worked there for three years before going off on his own.

“My plan was to be an entrepreneur. But with a family, I knew I needed a salary as I grew my experience, my knowledge and my network,” he said. “By 2019, I felt like it was time. I knew enough that I could support my family.”

Building better, stronger neighborhoods

So far, business is good. Emem juggles several projects at once, including an ambitious plan to create a city neighborhood from scratch on 60 lots located near 21st Street and Walnut Avenue. The land has been vacant for more than a decade. 

“The goal is to fill out every lot with a new home,” Emem has said. “There were more than 60 plus lots when we started this. We have six homes that are all occupied, and we have three under construction.”

Along with actual buildings, Emem wants to construct interconnected neighborhoods where residents can feel safe, connected and proud about where they live. He has served on the board of directors of We Got This Inc., a community group dedicated to incorporating the “neighbor” back into the “hoods” to create a sense of neighborhood. 

He also strives to be a role model for today’s youth. He works with Pathfinders Milwaukee Inc., a group that values youth as vital assets to the community and welcomes them as partners in decision-making. He constantly urges people of all walks of life to share their life stories. 

“There is power in sharing your experiences,” Emem said. “By sharing, you build trust and the people listening can see a piece of themselves in you. They can see themselves in how I was when I was 16. If they do that, maybe they believe they can be like me when they are 35. We need to work and unlock the potential within each person, and show them the inner power that they have.”

Learn more about MATC’s Architectural Technology program

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 28,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.