Start voting!
That’s what Keith Killen, a business owner in Menominee, Mich., is hoping he’ll be able to shout Feb. 12 when Deluxe Corporation announces the top five finalists in its reality television series, "Small Business Revolution." It already has been an amazing journey for Killen, who along with his wife, Barb, "co-conspirator" Kim Brooks, and a dedicated group of volunteers, have put the twin cities of Menominee and Marinette, Wis., in the top 10. More than 12,000 applications were received from communities throughout the United States, and the twin cities are the only finalists from the Midwest.
A lot is at stake. The winning community will receive a $500,000 makeover from Deluxe as part of its community revitalization program. Deluxe is a national partner of SCORE, and Barb Peterson, a member of the Green Bay SCORE chapter and resident of Marinette, is busy sharing the news and promoting mentorship.
"As the only certified SCORE mentor in the area, I was asked recently to join the voting committee to help spread the message that we will need everyone’s vote once we make the top five," Peterson said.
She will be joined by other Green Bay SCORE mentors at a free marketing event sponsored by Deluxe and scheduled for May 8, and hopes to build awareness.
"The primary benefit of mentorship to me is the joy and excitement of helping others achieve their dreams of starting a small business or helping work through any number of obstacles facing existing small business, including charitable organizations," Peterson said. "I love listening to their passion."
And passion is running high in these communities which have put aside a rivalry dating back more than a century to prove that more can be accomplished by working together. Bridges separating the states led to singular identities.
"All of what we’re doing in terms of getting involved in this is to be very inclusive of the whole market and both communities," Killen said. "If you look back to the political and municipal boundaries, people had used them as an excuse to say you can’t do this or can’t do that. But that has changed, most of us are erasing the bridge."
He complimented the city and county leaders and said that they actually participated in a joint city council meeting where they sat down and talked about how they could work together.
"The fact that we were so divided and have come this far has created attention," Killen said. "We live as one community whether or not we have the boundaries. The advantages are believing that we don’t have to compete with each other and can focus together on how we treat customers, visitors and people looking to move here."
He says the entire region has been affected by the contest. People began to believe when the! community made the top 20, and escalated as they were named to the top 10. For Killen, his wife, and Brooks, it has been a full-time job as they spread the word.
"The community is buzzing," Peterson said. "They planned for 250 people to attend the Enstrom Meet & Greet, and the total was closer to 500. People were clapping, cheering and beaming from ear to ear with pride."
That pride is seen on the Facebook page, My Marinette Menominee, where Killen wants to add to the 4,000-plus followers.
"There is this new attitude," Killen said. "We have this area where life is more manageable and where h! appiness is within reach. We don’t have 45-minute commutes and bumper-to-bumper traffic. We have the opportunity to be home for dinner, and there are all kinds of things to discover."
He hopes to draw new residents and says the community was built to support a 30 percent increase in population. Industry is vital and there is an economic development component, as well.
"We need to take care of the existing industry and be prepared for their expansion and put ourselves in a light where other industries will want to locate here," he said.
Having storefronts full with vibrant and thriving businesses are part of the vision. Brooks, who is married to an artist, is dedicated to developing a creative community that will add to the culture.
But the primary focus for the time being will be getting out the vote, and Killen is anxiously awaiting the top five announcement so he can rally the troops.
"Contact family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and ask them to vote," he said. "It takes an army."
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.