Building the next wave
The weeklong event from April 16 – 21 took place in a variety of locations, many of them involving notable Milwaukee landmarks, such as the 40th floor of the US Bank building, the Rockwell Clock Tower, and the Shops of Grand Avenue. Opportunity was everywhere.
“I want people to look at Milwaukee and say, ‘That’s a next generation city,’ ” said Ian Abston, co-founder of Newaukee.
Abston said the amount of people who attended was 250 percent above expectations with an estimated 4,000 – 5,000 people involved between participants, attendees, and Newaukee staff and volunteers.
“When you have to shut down the US Bank elevator because too many people are there, and when Rockwell’s clock tower is above capacity by 30 percent and the receptionist is freaking out, looking for someone to blame, you’re like – OK, we did a good job,” said Abston.
Each day of YP week began with a Coffee Talk at one location from 7:30 – 9 a.m., followed by a “Lunch N Learn” from noon to 1 p.m., and a featured event each night. Each individual day had a specific theme – Transit (Monday), Women in Leadership (Tuesday), Innovation (Wednesday), Volunteerism (Thursday) and Art (Friday). Saturday (Earth Day) was set aside for some Spring Cleaning at Bradford Beach.
“All of these events were free,” said Abston. “It wasn’t about making money. It wasn’t about taking a political stance on anything.”
The group YPNation is holding YP Weeks in 12 different cities, and with Newaukee’s response, Milwaukee moved to the front of the line.
The Transit Night Street Car Discussion was held on the 40th floor of the US Bank Building. The event not only featured spectacular views, but also a discussion on the coming downtown street car with panelists Jeramey Jannene of Urban Milwaukee, and Milwaukee aldermen Nik Kovac (3rd District) and Bob Bauman (4th District).
“We got behind transit, which should never be a right or left kind of idea,” said Abston.
While certain aspects of the discussion were somewhat political in nature, the event aimed more to inform than to fall into the divisive nature of today’s political culture.
“We want to stay neutral politically,” said Abston. “We are the most politically torn state in the country.”
Newaukee’s core mission is to promote improvement of the city, and part of that is recognizing, utilizing and learning more about the city’s rich history. The YP Week Gala, where awards were handed out for each day’s category, was held at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.
“I have a man-crush on John Gurda,” said Abston. “I love The Making of Milwaukee, I think it’s fascinating.” That fascination with history was evident in the events of YP Week. It becomes a source of community and city pride in the formation and execution of Newaukee events.
Abston went to college at UW-Oshkosh where he organized events with a group called the Goat Pack. The fact that he didn’t live in the Milwaukee area until the last few years helped shape his perception of Milwaukee and his enthusiasm for the city.
“When you’re at the top of Rockwell seeing a sunset drinking coffee listening to someone talk on innovation, you want to beat your chest and say, Milwaukee,” said Abston.
For next year’s YP Week, Newaukee is aiming to bring in “larger scale” speakers and to invite more partners to collaborate. Newaukee is also working with YPNation in hopes to attract national attention to the event.
If another day could have been added, the focus would have been on water, said Abston.
“In the next 50, maybe 20 years, I think there’s going to be billionaires in Milwaukee based on the water industry.”
Abston discussed Newaukee’s involvement with UN World Water Day as a point of inspiration for the renewed conversation around opportunities for advancing water technology and business in Milwaukee.
So what’s next for Newaukee?
People will be invited to tailgate, the Brewers’ racing sausages will be in attendance, and Fox Sports Wisconsin will be broadcasting live from the location.
Sounds like quite the opportunity.