I’m very excited about community development – I like creating that authentic sense of place and working with communities to make sure they are prepared for the opportunities that will come their way. I was with On Broadway for over 10 years, from volunteering to the directorship. It’s a community-based, volunteer organization that has made great strides in enhancing the community and making Broadway a place for community again – a place the community had turned its back on for so long.
All you need to do is go to the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays and find that it’s the gathering place, the cool place to be and that “Third Space” for a lot of people, which is what we always envisioned it to be. The Third Space is not your home, it’s not your work; it’s the place where you find comfort, a place where you connect with others and it’s someplace that you, personally, are drawn to.
On Broadway received a Great American Main Street award two years ago. That’s a huge accomplishment, something of a lifetime achievement. I credit the volunteerism and all the businesses that invested their time, money and effort into making sure that Broadway is sustainable.
When I started there, you couldn’t walk down the street without being sure that you wouldn’t trip on cracks and weeds; many businesses in the area were not neighborly. So over the years and working with the city of Green Bay and the private sector, On Broadway brought Broadway back. In the time I was there, we netted over 79 new businesses. We worked with a lot of startup businesses, and most of them are now past the five-year mark, which is fantastic. You can feel that energy in the street. It’s that entrepreneurial spirit that has collectively grown in the area, and it’s pretty phenomenal.
I loved On Broadway but I left [the director position, now held by Christopher Naumann] to gain some additional experience and personal growth. I’m still involved there as a volunteer. I found a company that met my values with regards to community development and community investment through urban planning: Dimension IV. It’s an architectural planning firm that strives to create sustainable projects. We have offices in Oshkosh and Green Bay and are licensed in 14 states.
I’m involved with Oshkosh and participate with their downtown program. I get the opportunity to work with startup businesses – helping them with everything from capital investment to strategy and how they can create that competitive advantage.
We’re also working with the City of Kaukauna, which has seen the development of a naturally-occurring wedding cluster – businesses such as bakeries and event planners, dresses and tux shops. It’s kind of a cool thing that we’re going to help them expand and create awareness about that group within the next year.
I think young people have different needs and attractions. That Third Space component comes from the younger generation. I just read how Gen-Y is not looking at the workforce to develop friendships – which is a very big change from previous generations. What are they looking for? It’s coffee shops, social networks and all those things that bring them together.
When you’re looking at creating a sense of community, you want to look at your community and say, “What do we want to be, how are we going to attract people, how are we going to maintain our residential base?” In every community that needs to be addressed differently.
I grew up in Seymour. So what does our community rally around? Hamburger Days. That has created our sense of place. I helped grill the first world-record hamburger. They’ve created that authenticity. And I think that’s what everybody is looking for, that authentic sense of place: who are we and what are we known for.