January 17, 2019
What Two Twin Towns Can Teach Us All About Working Together
Written by: Cameron Potts
Amanda Brinkman talks often about the spotlight outsiders can place on a business or community. There is something validating about outside influences telling area leaders that they are doing something right.
That is definitely the case for the twin cities of Marinette, Wisconsin, and Menominee, Michigan. Joined by a deep history in the lumber and shipping businesses, these two towns, located on Lake Michigan, have a collective vision for their future as they celebrate their shared pasts.
And that wasn’t always the case. Only in the last few years have the towns worked toward one goal to benefit all. That’s the thing about striving for something that can benefit the whole and not just a few. When nominations opened for Season 4 of Small Business Revolution – Main Street, these two communities put their heads together and thought two is better than one. Or even none. With a combined population of roughly 18,000 people, Marinette and Menominee posed a unique challenge for our team, but one we were eager to explore.
As community leaders like Kim Brooks and Cindy Boyle shared, until only a few years ago, the towns didn’t coordinate efforts on nearly any fronts. In two different states, they were burdened by different rules and laws for nearly everything. Even the main bridge over town could be contentious. Until the towns made it into the top 10 for the Small Business Revolution – Main Street, they each had a side of the bridge.
As they explained it, one state would put up banners along one side of the bridge, while the other took the opposite. When we arrived, banners with their own unique, locally produced logo celebrating being part of our effort lined both sides of the bridge. Progress.
“That was the first time that has ever happened,” Boyle shared with us from her small business, Boyle Design Group. Online, Boyle embraced the spirit of SBR early on, recognizing the true power of the movement is how the towns use the momentum gathered as they planned for our visits.
“There is an obvious carrot for the win, of course, but those of us involved and invested in this recognized early on that the prize is the icing. The cake is the movement,” Boyle said.
Some other firsts happened during our visit to Marinette and Menominee. The two high schools, which boast the longest running football rivalry in the nation, for the first time gathered their two marching bands to play together. And more than 450 small business owners from up and down the two communities gathered to show us their community pride.
Small business owners Boyle, Brooks and Keith Killen saw a chance not only to win a contest, but to spark their own movement. Working together, they can revitalize their Main Streets and help small businesses across the board. Both communities have robust small businesses, but their downtowns need help. Empty storefronts dot the streets. Having a cohesive vision will help.
“We have seen not only the small businesses step up, but the mid-sized and large businesses too. They recognize the need to recruit qualified workers and small businesses help to do that. They help set the overall quality of life here in this region,” Boyle said.
We are too early in our journey right now to know which towns will make it to the top 5 for a public vote, yet more so than previous seasons, the overall vibe from the communities we are visiting is they get it. Only one can win, but all of these towns have a chance to really create their own movement, to shape a future that includes businesses of all sizes and scale.
Chuck Boyle, Cindy’s husband, knows a thing or two about small-town business. His great-grandfather started Lauerman’s Department Store in Marinette, expanding throughout the region in the early 1900s. Akin to a Macy’s or Dayton’s, the original building still takes up a corner lot in downtown, though Lauerman’s has been closed for some time. But Chuck knows the importance of connecting locally.
“My grandfather had a separate charge account for humanitarian needs back in the day,” Chuck explained. “When people needed something, he found a way. That’s why we are involved now. That’s why so many people are involved here, to take advantage of this opportunity.”
A history of rivalry between Marinette and Menominee won’t be forgotten, but then again, it doesn’t have to. Our team came in and said they are doing something right. They are working hard to establish a vision for the future. They are taking advantage of that spotlight. Win or lose, we will be rooting for their collective efforts.