"There are two types of people who don’t like Milwaukee: those who have never been here and those who never left," NEWaukee founder Ian Abston said, reiterating a quote he once heard during Monday's Young Professionals Week event at 88.9 Radio Milwaukee.
Essentially, he meant that people who never been out of Milwaukee don't know how good they really have it and people who've never stepped one foot in the city don't really know how cool it is because people from the outside aren't talking about it like they are about Austin, Texas, or Portland, Oregon.
That, Abston declared with the upmost confidence, will someday change and he insists NEWaukee will work endlessly to make it happen. But it'll take the help of the millennials who are willing to reshape the city into they want it to be.
Abston was joined on stage with NEWaukee president Angela Damiani, and over the course of nearly an hour, spoke in detail about the group's genesis, the work it has accomplished so far – such as establishing connections, fueling the art community and changing perceptions with the popular Night Market – and its hopes for the city in coming years.
"It’s a shape-able city," Abston said. "In New York, there’s concrete everywhere. You can’t build anything as a millennial. Here you can be a part of the creation. I think that’s really cool."
So, why would the staff of NEWaukee, which is made up entirely of a staff under the age of 35, do what they do for Milwaukee?
"We had no friends," Damiani joked.
The real reason, however, is because they chose Milwaukee as outsiders and have grown to love the city.
"We think Milwaukee is the best place on the planet," Damiani said. "We want to help other people continue to make it awesome, but we need to start somewhere and we need to start showing them why it’s awesome so that’s why we do what we do every day."
Their original premise, according to Damiani, was really simple: Let people meet one another and explore the city.
Abston gathered a few of his friends in 2009 in the basement of the Ale House and expressed his concerns about connecting with other people. He said that everyone at his workplace is "super old" and they go home at five. Fresh out of college and in a new city, he wanted to try new things.
"When a lot of people move to a new city, there’s a lot of great things to do that city, but if you don’t know the great people to do them with, sometimes those great things don’t emerge," Abston said. "There’s a lot to it beyond the Art Museum and the Bradley Center. The actual culture happens in the neighborhoods and really that’s what we started to try and discover during that first year."
As NEWaukee was growing, it offered free membership and free community-based events – what Abston calls the world’s worst business model. Despite that, organizers knew something was there and they knew they had to push forward.
"We started thinking, 'Alright, what is that we’re doing?' We started listening to what was happening around us and simultaneous to us doing all these fun programs, we were hearing things like, 'We need to get more young people involved," Damiani said.
NEWaukee's operations became a beacon welcoming anyone new to participate in events that are unique to Milwaukee. It was able to use its large and continuously growing subscriber base to tell the story about what's happening in the city and to take on some political issues, too.
"We posted a variety of very contentious dialogues online and in person about the sale of O’Donnell Park, about the streetcar initiative, and our hope there is to not necessarily take a stance but to say, 'Here are the facts and if this gives you a deep fire in your belly and makes you feel something positive or negative, contact your representatives because having a Facebook war with your buddies on a comment thread may scratch and itch for you, but it doesn’t change anything," Damiani said.
NEWaukee's goal is that others should feel inspired to help create the city that they want to be in and to have a voice and a platform to effect change.
"Pick the streetcar for example," Abston said. "The only platform that was given to us as millennials was, 'Show up Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the City Hall hearing and wait in line for three hours until your name is called and you can come up and give us your perspective.' Well, that doesn’t do anyone any good. No one’s taking a day off from work to go give their opinions on the streetcar. You have to come up with a platform for young people to showcase their ideas and their opinions on this.
"We have a great tap into City Hall and the county and some larger corporations and they really want to get your perspective and your feedback," Abston continued. "They’re trying to build the streetcar for you, but somehow they have no idea how to tap into you."
One of the reasons why Damiani, Abston and the rest of the NEWaukee staff do what they do is so that young people can use the group as a sounding board for new ideas and feedback and to spread the message to those willing to listen.
One of the problems that they recognize, however, is that millennials leave and don't come back because they're in search of "greener, warmer pastures." Milwaukee must become a more attractive place to live and work.
"Because we had all these best practices from the community and our community engagement, we knew if an employer could invest in the place where their employee actually worked, that would increase their love of the city," Damiani explained.
According to Damiani, this would inspire the Millennial generation to participate in the creation of that place, which would actually make Milwaukee a more attractive workplace for everyone and not just that particular employee or employer.
"The key to millennials is building meaningful, social experience," said Abston. "Millennials are completely changing the dynamic of what people are looking for. It’s about connecting your employees to each other and to the place.
"New people moving here, if (they) don’t like Milwaukee, (they're) not going to like the place (they) work, either."
Colton Dunham's passion for movies began back as far as he can remember. Before he reached double digits in age, he stayed up on Saturday nights and watched numerous classic horror movies with his grandfather. Eventually, he branched out to other genres and the passion grew to what it is today.
Only this time, he's writing about his response to each movie he sees, whether it's a review for a website, or a short, 140-character review on Twitter. When he's not inside of a movie theater, at home binge watching a television show, or bragging that he's a published author, he's pursuing to keep movies a huge part of his life, whether it's as a journalist/critic or, ahem, a screenwriter.