Manitowoc County is home to growing businesses and low unemployment, but there’s one statistic that’s not in the county’s favor: population growth. According to estimates, Manitowoc County will lose 2 percent of its population by 2020 and 4 percent by 2040. Adding to those negative numbers is residents’ not-so-rosy perception about the county’s future.
To turn those numbers around, local business and community leaders came together in 2017 to launch Vision 2022, a grassroots plan focused on improving centralization, collaboration and community attitude.
Mary Maurer, community director for Vision 2022, talked with Insight about the program’s goals and what has been accomplished so far.
Where did the idea for Vision 2022 come from?
Mary Maurer: When Manitowoc Cranes announced it was leaving, a few local businesses got together and thought area residents needed a boost — something positive to focus on, rather than the negative. When something like a large employer leaves your area, it has an impact that goes beyond jobs. We also saw the lack of population growth, the upcoming wave of retirements and some general feelings of apathy for the area’s future. Silver Lake College, Holy Family Memorial and Leede Research leaders came together and decided a fire starter for both economic growth and community spirit was needed. Vision 2022 came out of that — it’s a five-year grassroots program focused on community growth, health and prosperity. There are a lot of positive things going on in Manitowoc — businesses are growing — and we need to not only get the word out, but also have a unified community vision.
And what is that?
We want to be a community of people filled with excitement for success, pride and passion for better and who love to call Manitowoc County home. We believe we can leverage key strengths, determine opportunities and support a unified and energetic future by uniting our communication and resources.
We began with a large survey of community members about what they thought about the county and what they wanted it to be. The results were revealing. We found people are very proud to be a lakeshore community — there are so many spots to access Lake Michigan throughout the county — and that we are a family-oriented community. We have good schools and it’s a great place to raise a family. But there was a real downside: People had a negative feeling about the county’s direction. They realized our population is decreasing — especially among the young — and weren’t sure what, if anything, could be done to bring more young workers to the area and get them to stay. We realized we needed to change the conversation and do a better job of being our own cheerleader for the community. We need to focus on the good happening and build community pride.
How do you go about building community pride?
We put together the “I Will” campaign, which encourages people to take a pledge, either for themselves or for their business, that they will share positive things about the community, support activities that make it a better place, collaborate with others for the common good of Manitowoc County and support change to make this place the best it can be. We have forms people can fill out online and paper forms that people can just sign. We have received a great response. Vision 2022 is all about making Manitowoc County better together during the next five years.
We believe increased community pride will lead to more people staying here and hopefully attract more people to the area. We have many growing businesses and they need workers to sustain that growth.
What has Vision 2022 accomplished so far?
Besides the “I Will” campaign, we held a summit to update the community about where we are at. We
also put together five first-generation work groups, each with a specific focus: unique downtowns, young worker retention and attraction, healthier community, changing the conversation, and regional collaboration. We have a lot of smart, talented people in our community who have come forward to be a part of this — there are 200 volunteers on the five work groups. Our goal is to not duplicate anything that other organizations are doing. Rather, we want to work with them to help boost economic vitality.
This isn’t the first time Manitowoc leaders have used a vision plan to drive change.
That’s right. In 2000 when the Mirro Co. left, the organizations behind Vision 2022 came together to launch Vision 2011. Back then, people really felt down, and the economy was suffering, so an initiative was launched to improve economic development and collaboration among different organizations. Vision 2011 led to the creation of Progress Lakeshore, a county-wide economic development corporation. That organization has played a big role in a number of business expansions, bringing new businesses to the community and helping entrepreneurs get their own businesses off the ground.
One thing we want to accomplish with Vision 2022 is regional collaboration and getting people focused on enhanced economic vitality. We want to leverage the I-43 corridor and work together so we’re not islands. We can learn best practices from each other, so everyone grows.