Collaboration and making the region a great place to live were themes of Thursday’s Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce Annual Report to the Community.
Meeting goals and returns on investment come through working together, said Jason Henderson, Northeast Wisconsin regional manager at Feeding America Wisconsin and one of the morning’s speakers. “People choose where they want to live first … and we want to be that choice.”
In effort to inspire that sense of community, groups like Pulse Young Professionals Network are working to create a sense of place for the greater Fox Cities.
Dawn Ebert, owner of Wisconsin Avenue’s Simple Simon Bakery, was a little skeptical when she first heard the idea for September’s Bazaar After Dark, an event that was expected to bring 1,200 attendees but ultimately drew 3,500.
“I do have a passion for businesses along Wisconsin Avenue to thrive and to prosper,” she says.
With the successful night market event and a new mural on the side street of Durkee along Wisconsin Avenue, Pulse’s Project Wisconsin Avenue is helping accomplish the goal, Ebert says.
“I don’t know where to start with how this event gave a different light to Wisconsin Avenue,” says Ebert, who did booming business the night of the bazaar. “The barriers of diversity were broken for a short time along Wisconsin Avenue.”
Creating a vital community ultimately helps with talent attraction and retention. “It’s so terribly important in this community that we do things to try to attract and retain talent,” says Kathi Seifert, secretary/treasurer of the chamber and owner of Katapult, LLC.
Events like Fox Cities Regional Partnership’s award-winning Talent Upload aim to do just that. “We have benefitted so much from this program to be successful as we grow and expand,” says Scott Teerlinck, president of Werner Electric Supply.
People are the priority at Teerlinck’s company, he says, and it hasn’t always been easy to sell Werner to prospective employees. Talent Upload has helped overcome that.
“If nothing else, if we don’t get to come to us full time,” Teerlinck says, “at a minimum we introduce them to the Fox Cities.”
When it comes to attracting businesses, though, promoting a regional brand is critical, says Steve Jenkins, president of the Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corp. “I’m here today because we’re all interconnected economically and socially,” he said.
The communities along the I-41 corridor are not autonomous but rather linked, he says. Site consultants have clearly said that to create critical mass, communities need to unite.
Since the municipalities have begun working together, they’ve seen success, Jenkins says. This past fall, four site selectors who toured the I-41 corridor were impressed with the collaboration.
“One success means success for everyone,” he said, saying that his community celebrates new businesses in the Fox Cities and vice versa. “We’re all in this together.”
The chamber also works to strengthen area businesses through support it provides via its public policy arm, says Lisa Cruz, president and owner of Red Shoes PR.
She spoke of the looming, and now delayed, U.S. Department of Labor overtime law and the panic it inspired in her.
“For months, I had this source of anxiety about the administration of this law as a small business owner,” Cruz says. “All I have is me.”
Cruz finally turned to Mark Rahmlow, the chamber’s vice president of public policy. He organized a learning session to help educate businesses about the new law.
“Running a small business can be isolating,” Cruz says, but she felt a lot of support in walking into that room and finding many others in her same position.