Jeff Amstutz, an Indiana native, moved to Appleton from Charlottesville,Va., in 2007 with his life partner and launched A2Z Design, a graphic design studio which now employs four. In May, his company was named Business of the Year by the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce. He sat down with Insight Editor Margaret LeBrun to talk about what it means for business to embrace diversity and the LGBT community.
A2Z Design works with a variety of clients across Northeast Wisconsin and around the country. We love being a part of positive change and being involved in the community. When my life partner and I moved here, we found a community that is not afraid to step up, come together, tackle challenges and find solutions that result in transformative change.
One of the greatest areas for continued growth and improvement is making our community more welcome and inclusive. We live and operate in a global economy. To be a viable and thriving region economically, we need to be aware of the importance of creating and fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce.
The Fox Valley, in particular, is taking important strides to lead the way in becoming more open and inclusive as it relates to the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community. As an openly gay business owner, I applaud and support these efforts and I am proud that A2Z Design is a part of this work.
We got involved with the INCLUDE initiative at its inception in 2012. Its focus is to engage and encourage businesses and community leaders to join together to make the Fox Valley a more welcome, inclusive and safe community for all people regardless of gender identity, expression or sexual orientation. This effort grew out of an in-depth look at trying to understand why a rash of local teen suicides had been occurring here and around the Fox Cities. It was discovered that at least 75 percent of kids who died by suicide identified as LGBT. We have to protect our kids.
A2Z Design is also involved with the LGBT Partnership, a part of Goodwill Industries’ Harmony Café. It provides leadership development and support groups for youth ages 14 to 18. The LGBT Partnership also has a variety of adult social and educational groups in Appleton and Green Bay.
With both of these efforts, A2Z Design has offered branding and ongoing graphic design services. It’s also been great for business as we’ve been able to showcase our creativity in unique and unexpected ways. Natural networking opportunities have taken place as we’ve worked alongside other businesses and individuals that support the LGBT community.
In May, A2Z Design received the 2014 LGBT Business of the Year award from the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce. They recognized our work in the community, not just for LGBT causes, but how we give back to our community in the work we do. We’re also involved with Catalpa Health, the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra and newVoices (just to name a few).
We’re in a time when attracting and retaining talent is vitally important for any business. We can’t overlook the LGBT community – by nature, it’s a very creative class of people.
Businesses thrive when challenged by different perspectives and different insights. It would be easy to stick to our comfort zones in terms of how we grow our businesses and the people we hire. However, we need to remember that when different perspectives join our teams, we get a better 360 degree view of what could be possible.
In a March 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of Millennials (young Americans born after 1980) support marriage equality. Why does this matter? It matters because they are the incoming workforce. We are also seeing that Millennials seek employment at companies that respect and value everyone and treat all employees equally. It is a matter of human dignity.
Wisconsin is now surrounded by states that more fully welcome the LGBT community. It puts us in a vulnerable spot. I believe we are at risk of starting to lose this creative class of individuals. If we don’t take proactive steps toward becoming more welcoming and inclusive, we run the risk of not attracting new talent and losing current talent to states and communities that understand the importance of valuing equality.
My partner, Chad, often says that “passion bends reality.” It’s time to bend reality and work together for a pro-equality, pro-business Wisconsin.