Jason Prigge is a one-man cheering section for Manitowoc. A Sheboygan County native, he traveled quite a bit before moving to Manitowoc in the early 2000s. A freelance designer and painter, Prigge eventually opened Vagabond Creative Studio, where he works with local and national businesses in need of marketing, videos and design. In the spring of 2018, he decided to use his creative skills to promote his adopted hometown by launching the Coolest Coast.
Where did the idea for Coolest Coast come from?
Jason Prigge: It was really out of anger and disgust over the things (related to “Making a Murderer”) that I would hear in circles outside of Manitowoc. I felt like I had to do something to change the perception of our community. It was tough. There was an awful image of our community painted, and then we went through Manitowoc Co. leaving. But Manitowoc is more than all of that. If I couldn’t do what I’m doing now, I would stand on the corner with a cardboard sign that said, “Welcome to the coolest coast” and talk about Manitowoc to anyone who would listen.
One of the things that’s really important to me — and I have it hanging in my office — is, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” A lot of people were talking about, “Hey, we need to do something to boost pride in the community,” but there wasn’t much action. I don’t like to talk about things; I like to just do them. And by doing them, that’s how the change happens. This is a team effort. My wife, Tina, is the other partner in this, and we complement each other very well.
As for the name, we didn’t want to use Manitowoc since it’s county-wide and didn’t want to use lakeshore since that could be used for the east half of the state. We have a great coast here in Manitowoc, and we think the area is pretty cool, so Coolest Coast worked.
We started out making videos and putting them up on Facebook and then built out the website. We started getting a lot of positive feedback. I walk into the grocery store and people say, “Hey, Coolest Coast, thank you so much for what you’re doing for the community.”
Have you received feedback from outside Manitowoc? Sure. I’ve received emails from people who come to the area on business that say: “I saw your videos. Wow. Next time I’m in town, I’m going to go to Strand Adventures,” or “I’m going to take a walk out to the lighthouse.” The most special thing that I’ve experienced — and I can die happy now — is that I was outside painting a mural on the side of our building a couple of months ago. I was up on the scaffold and a couple in their 50s walked by. They called up to me: “Hey, Jason. We watch the Coolest Coast. We’re from the Valley, and we saw your episode on the Mariners Trail. And for the past couple months, we’ve been looking for property on that because we just love to ride our bikes and hike. We just bought property right off of the Mariners Trail in Manitowoc.” That just blew my mind. I was so happy for that because what I’m doing is not about tourism, it’s about economic development — bringing new businesses and people to the community.
There’s also a lot out there about Manitowoc that’s false. People say we don’t have jobs. That’s so untrue. We have a very low unemployment rate. Or that it’s a depressed area, but our downtown is being revitalized, and there’s so many beautiful things about Manitowoc that I had to just get out my megaphone and talk about it. I use the videos to share what’s here and what’s happening.
The Coolest Coast is not your full-time job. You still run your agency. Coolest Coast started out as a hobby, and yes, I’m still running Vagabond. I now spend as much time on Coolest Coast as I do on my business. It’s an undying love, and when you love something that much, you have a deep well of energy and a deep well of creative ideas that come forth. I’m still working hard with the agency because the mortgage needs to get paid. I’m not getting paid for the Coolest Coast, and it’s taken a lot of time. We have done more than 130 videos. We have a half million views on those videos. It’s taken a lot of energy. Tina and I sometimes look at ourselves and say, “You know what? This is really hard.” But we also see the results of what we’re doing, so we keep going.
How do you come up with video ideas? If there’s something cool that we want to share — for example about the Mariners Trail — we do a video about it. We post the videos on Facebook, where they get great traction. We post a lot of information about what’s going on in the community on our website, too. You can go to our website and look up everything that’s going on.
Progress Lakeshore recently selected Coolest Coast as its go-to community engagement platform. What does that mean for Coolest Coast? It’s a big help in getting out the word about our website and what the Coolest Coast is. Progress Lakeshore is about economic development, and what we’re doing contributes to economic development since we’re promoting the area and trying to attract people and businesses to consider moving here.
The more we shine a light on the great attributes in our community, the more they can be appreciated, creating an awareness of the unsurpassed quality of life along the lakeshore. Demonstrating quality of life is also beneficial for the many businesses in our community that seek to recruit and retain top talent.