Adrienne Palm, director of the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce Pulse Young Professionals Network, was one among a select group chosen by the Millennial Trains Project to tour the country in a vintage rail car exchanging ideas on social entrepreneurship and economic development. She shared with Insight Senior Editor Sean Johnson ideas and lessons for collaborative economic development strategies that will make Northeast Wisconsin a destination for young professionals.
I AM STILL UNPACKING MANY of the things I learned from the Millennial Trains Project – there is a lot there — but my overall message to young professionals is to get engaged in the community.
We have some incredibly passionate people who want to do big things. Don’t wait for somebody to say you have permission. Don’t wait for somebody to invite you to the table.
The other message would be to those who are currently in positions of leadership and power: Allowing young people to be part of the process of steering the community has to be a priority. Say yes as often as you can. The people that are going to shape what we look like as a community in 20 years are here now. But they are not necessarily going to stay, particularly if they don’t feel like their ideas are being heard or embraced. The people we need to keep and attract here the most are the ones who can most easily leave – every other community wants them.
My project for the MTP was called the Remora project. The remora is a tiny fish that attaches itself to a shark. It keeps the shark’s skin clean and eats the leftovers from the shark. It’s a beneficial ecosystem between the two. I want to explore how smaller cities can learn from larger cities but also provide benefits that work the other way. We have begun to build a model of collaboration between the YP communities of Wisconsin, and I wanted to know what that could look like transferred over to another state.
My project was confirmed by the MTP board, and I had 60 days to crowdfund $5,000 to pay for the trip. It adds a unique element because it really does require you to get the support of your community or your network to say we believe in you and this is something we think is important for our community.
The first stop of our trip was Pittsburgh and I fell in love with Pittsburgh like never before. There is a place there called Conflict Kitchen, a popup restaurant where the whole idea is to feature foods from countries that the United States is in conflict with, and that has now become a permanent fixture. There was an organization called the Sprout Fund focused on micro-grants. They support smaller initiatives with grants ranging from $500 to $10,000 for different social entrepreneurship projects.
Another one that really stood out to me was an interaction when I was in Albuquerque, N.M. I happened to see some people working on a mosaic on the side of a building. Based on this completely organic meetup, I met with the entire staff and learned about how arts are funded in Albuquerque. They have the 1 percent rule, which is that 1 percent of a government project must go toward the arts. That equated to a $1.6 million arts budget for the city.
In the Fox Cities, with a relatively healthy and robust economy, with minimal poverty compared to other places, and higher safety ratings, we are coming up woefully short when it comes to arts funding.
Too often, we let the roadblocks slow us down. I think at the end of the day, if there is something you want to create here, pursue it. Don’t be afraid of the restrictions. That was the approach we brought to Bazaar after Dark. There were a lot of people who were skeptical, but we did it, and we were successful.
That’s not to say that you don’t try to go through the proper channels, but my advice is don’t let that get you down and keep pursuing it.