HE WORE A RED SUIT THE FIRST I saw him, and crooned into the microphone with the confidence of a showman. Three of his colleagues from Secura Insurance pranced on the stage with him, doing a choreographed dance to a song by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. And the audience roared.
This was at the annual kickoff luncheon for the Fox Cities United Way, held on the lawn under a tent at Secura Insurance, just off Memorial Drive in Appleton. John Bykowski, CEO and president of the company, was the ring leader in this fun spoof of the Jersey Boys. They put their heart and soul and a healthy sense of humor into their act. They did the same act a month later at Insight’s first Karaoke for a Cause event, also to benefit the United Way, and Secura employees with the moxie to sing and dance for charity have joined Bykowski on the stage on other occasions as well.
Putting community and people first has been the key to current success at Secura, Bykowski attests in this month’s cover story. It wasn’t always this way – but business certainly improved markedly once the company made a conscious effort, under Bykowski’s leadership, to improve the work culture within the company.
“The culture was here, it just needed to be allowed to surface,” the CEO says. I won’t give away how they did it. Check out the story by Sean Johnson, which starts on page 22.
Culture is also at the heart of what the Fox Cities Regional Partnership sees as a key component of keeping and attracting businesses to the area. That’s what Larry Burkhardt, executive vice president and chief development officer for the affiliate of the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce told me when I interviewed him for this month’s Face Time story. New to this area one year ago, Burkhardt found our uniquely Wisconsin attributes endearing. He was so impressed (OK, you could also say amused) by such things as our bubblers, “stop-and-go-lights” and Friday night fish fries that he took it upon himself to create a little book to show site selectors that we really do have our own special culture – in addition to great attributes, like high graduation rates and low crime rates. While many in the business community of Northeast Wisconsin would like to see the Fox Valley region identified by one name (Appleton) so you can find the place on a map, Burkhardt emphasizes that what’s really important is that the 60-odd municipal entities in the Fox Cities region collaborate.
Quite a lot of what Burkhardt talks about goes hand-in-hand with New North, Inc. The economic development organization represented by 18 counties in Northeast Wisconsin has similar goals, though from a much broader vantage point. I’ll let Burkhardt tell the story; turn to page 17.
If it seems this issue is heavy on the Fox Cities news, you’re right. Our economic development focus takes a look at several projects in the works in the area (see page 38).
Among the most exciting projects is the completely renovated Houdini Plaza, along the south side of College Avenue in the center city. I can attest to the fast pace of the work that’s been done – my office on the second floor of the Zuelke Building overlooks most of the plaza. A few months ago it was pretty loud, with the jackhammers and diggers and loaders. In mid-May most of the concrete was poured for sidewalks and the bandshell area.
The Fox Cities Chamber hopes to include tours of the new plaza during the networking portion of its second annual Trifecta event the evening of June 12 (see the event listings in “Connections” on page 21). Will the plaza be ready? I ask you, was Harry Houdini, who lived in Appleton as a child, ready to escape from a nailed packing crate when they threw him into the East River in New York? If not, the networking will be in the courtyard at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel. I hope to see you there!