Young professionals describe attraction to rural towns

Ray Mueller
Panelists at the Rural Summit  shared experiences and a list of recommendations for rural communities. Pictured (from left) are Matt Trotter,  Loni Meiborg, and Claire Maes.

GREEN LAKE – The more than 90 attendees at the Wisconsin Rural Partners' 25th anniversary Rural Summit were provided insights by young professionals on why they have chosen to work and live in nearby rural communities.

Whether it's having lifetime roots in the vicinity or having chosen the area as “home,” the panelists cited a variety of reasons which make them comfortable there today. They also shared pointers on how they made their choice for themselves and their families.

Coming home

For Matt Trotter, who's a native of Princeton (population just over 1,200) in Green Lake County, the major commercial and artistic renovation of the historic downtown in his hometown, which he described as “a creative culture,” was the drawing card to bring him back in 2012 after 10 years in Milwaukee.

The revival, which was taking place in Princeton's original buildings, appealed to Trotter as “a do it spirit” inspired by outside of the box thinking. It took advantage of the locality's tradition, making use of the its existing structure, he remarked.

Trotter stepped into the downtown historic shopping scene by opening Teak and Soxy, which is a retail shop featuring offbeat gifts and home décor items. Two years ago, he introduced “Horseradish Alley Cafe,” which is a food truck that pairs locally sourced food and drinks with music and an outdoor seating area.

“Finding the unexpected in a rural community” is a wonderful asset, Trotter stated. He mentioned “good food” along with “the feeling” that is created by the atmosphere created by surprises in a rural community.

Green Lake native Nicholas Vandervelde, who didn't arrive until the end of the panel session, said “people need to be entrepreneurs here because they are no basic industries.” As a commercial banker at 1st National in Green Lake, he took note of the varied agricultural sector in the region and suggested that food production and marketing could serve as “a business incubator.”

Google search

Claire Maes, who owns Idee Interior Design and is opening a retail outlet at Quinn's Market in Berlin, wound up in Green Lake (population of 960 in 2010) as a result of a Google search for the “100 best places in Wisconsin,” she indicated. She advised chambers of commerce to keep their web pages updated, especially if they have places for vacation.

Maes and her husband, who accepted a job in the area, moved to Green Lake with their two children from Grand Rapids, MI in 2013. Impressed with the people and lifestyle they have experienced, “we now see this as 'home,'” she said. “There's no age barrier here. And there are many similar interests.”

On her checklist for a suitable community, Maes has the availability of rental properties, the distance to shopping, having an outlet for buying milk and eggs nearby, events and activities suitable for young children at least once a week, an active school community, proximity to water, access to outside attractions, and the offering of cooking classes.

Family relocation

For Loni Meiborg, who's a native of Chicago, the connection with Green Lake was her grandparents, who retired in the area in 1996. She left Chicago in 1999 to attend college in Fond du Lac and worked at the Heidel House resort, where this Rural Summit was held.

During that time, Meiborg liked the people she met in the area, the opportunities to bike and hike, and the “laid back style” which allowed her to set her “own internal pace.” Before her current role as the marketing leader at 1st National Bank, she had tourism, retail, and manufacturing jobs along with having been the director of the Green Lake chamber of commerce.

The area also provides a good “quality of life” for her husband and their two young sons, Meiborg stated. The couple also operates a local business.

Additional wishes

If Meiborg had her way, and based on her early life through high school in Chicago, the area would be served by both bus and train lines. “I love convenience,” she remarked. She was happy to note that Green Lake is being served by one Uber driver but wished there would be more in the area, in which she includes Markesan, Princeton, Ripon, and Berlin.

Meiborg also called for complimentary city or village wide Wi-Fi and a downtown business retail community that's sufficient to occupy at least two hours of a visitor's time in walking and eating. She would also like “dog friendly” parks – something she has so far failed to achieve in an appeal to the village board in Green Lake.

Allowing dog owners to walk their pets throughout the community would create traffic in the commercial district, Meiborg pointed out. Her remedy for that is for more people to “get involved” in community activities and government. For her 10 and 12 year-old sons, sports and the attractions of nature are important, she added.

Common interests

While noting that the monthly social gatherings draw five to 35 attendees, all three panelists noted that they participate in the rather informal Young Professionals group that has been established in the area. The support team organization also schedules visits to area businesses.

As another way to gain attention for a community, all local groups should coordinate a digital footprint online, Meiborg advised. “That attracts people.”