BizTimes Media discovered that first-hand in late June, when we hosted the summer conference of the Alliance of Area Business Publications (AABP). The conference brought together 150 publishers and editors of local business publications throughout North America. Also, one publisher traveled all the way from Australia to the Brew City.
The conference provided an outstanding opportunity to showcase Milwaukee to people who are thought leaders in their markets.
We began by compiling an "Editor's Choice" e-mail to the attendees in advance of the conference, which was held at the Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. The guide compiled a list of restaurants, activities and attractions categorized by their distance from the Pfister: by foot, by cab or by rental car. The e-mail contained hyperlinks to the web sites of the various destinations, making it a one-stop guide for the attendees.
The second step of the welcoming process was a custom bag of Milwaukee swag. Tom Gaertner, vice president of sales at BizTimes, did a terrific job of reaching out to Milwaukee companies that donated promotional items to be included in the bag. When the attendees registered, they were given a bag that included beverages, snacks, lip balm, a T-shirt, bobble heads, a fancy custom shoehorn and more. They literally received a taste of Milwaukee.
BizTimes publisher Dan Meyer hosted an opening reception at the Pilot House at Discovery World in downtown Milwaukee. The venue's breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline made lasting impressions upon the visitors.
From there, I had the honor to lead a group of 32 editors on a walk through Milwaukee's bustling Historic Third Ward. We had dinner at Ryan Braun's Graffito. The staff of the restaurant reserved enough tables for our group to dine outside on the boardwalk, where patrons could watch boats traveling up and down the Milwaukee River. The food and the service were outstanding.
On the next night, the same group gathered for a walk to the Water Street Brewery, where the visitors were treated to an old-fashioned Milwaukee fish fry. The night was capped with cocktails at the Newsroom Pub, where the Milwaukee Press Club's historic collection of signatures is always on display.
So, what did these visitors think about Milwaukee? There was only one way to find out: ask them. So, we did. The following are some of their responses.
"Milwaukee was a much different city than I had envisioned prior to arrival. My mind drifted to beer breweries and 'Laverne and Shirley,' but what I found was a downtown that's clearly on the rebound and doing quite nicely. The waterfront development and the Third Ward was absolutely fantastic and great areas for residents to gather. I have always believed that the downtown area is essentially the living room of any community. It's the place where one welcomes and entertains friends and visitors. Downtown Milwaukee is a great living room. I also want to commend officials and residents for keeping the city so clean. Baton Rouge has a lot to learn from Milwaukee in that regard. A clean city is evidence of a community with a sense of pride and caring, clearly the people of Milwaukee are proud to call Milwaukee home. Now, if it were only that nice in the winter you folks might really have something!" J.R. Ball, executive vice president, Baton Rouge Business Report
"I wish Cleveland used its waterfront – both lake and river – as well as Milwaukee does. The wonderful public spaces along Lake Michigan as well as the residential real estate development going on along the river make for a livable city that is especially attractive to young people. Your club and restaurant scene isn't as diverse or as lively as the one in my town, and I think it was a mistake to put your ballpark outside of the downtown area, but the fact that you enjoy abundant access to your waterways is a huge plus for your town. I am jealous." Mark Dodosh, editor, Crain's Cleveland Business
"I am a big fan of Milwaukee. My first day there I went to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which was both terrific and terrific looking. Downtown was great to walk in (one of my key requirements) and the Third Ward was fun and full of life. We visited Spin, a ping-pong bar and had a good time at the decidedly different venue. My publisher and I mistakenly crashed two parties (one in a restaurant, one in a house in the Third Ward) but everyone was very pleasant, tipsy and entertaining. Fort Worth is working on a new somewhat controversial waterfront development, and both my publisher and I were saying, 'Bring it on!' after our visit to Milwaukee. However, we want to import the cool breezes from Milwaukee. Good job Milwaukee and keep brewing that beer too!" Robert Francis, editor, Fort Worth Business Press
"I really enjoyed the walkability of Milwaukee and could see how much more development there was than when we were there 10 years ago. I also enjoyed my trip to Miller Park, 95 degree heat and all." Cindy Goodaker, editor, Crain's Detroit Business.
"I had enjoyed my visit to Milwaukee 10 years ago. But Milwaukee seemed more alive, more vibrant and more fun than I remembered. I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to be there for the Summerfest. The shuttle driver gushed about how wonderful it is. It was clear how proud he, an older and lifelong resident, was of the development downtown. I walked quite a bit along the lakefront and also a few other areas of the city. The lake waterfront – and access to it – is an incredible asset to the city. It made be jealous. Rochester is along Lake Ontario, with the Genesee River and a waterfall downtown, but its downtown area is not on the lake. One thing that surprised me was that the areas along the lake were not more crowded. I would have thought there would have been masses of people out on a beautiful Saturday. I enjoyed the Third Ward and wished I had more time to spend there. I enjoyed the re-use of the older buildings that gave character and history to the new vibrancy. For a beer drinker, the availability and variety of craft brews on tap, coupled with the city's history in brewing, make it a must visit. Finally, the city seemed safe, and much safer than I remembered. As a former cops and courts reporter, I have a hyper-sensitive detector for, well, unsavory locations. Thanks for all your hospitality." Mike Dickinson, editor, Rochester (N.Y.) Business Journal
"My only impression of Milwaukee was based on beer commercials and TV sitcoms. So stepping foot into the Pfister really challenged that blue-collar presumption. I love that a downtown hotel had taken such pains to preserve its history and architecture, while offering modern amenities and great service. I was also impressed by the diversity of people I saw in the clubs, restaurants and parks. It seems Milwaukee has something for everybody, whether that spectacular art museum or the Big Lebowski festival. And no one seems to take themselves too seriously (based on time spent in Spin, Sublime, Blu, the Milwaukee Press Club and Ratzsch's), which makes for a lively and fun atmosphere. It's definitely worth a longer visit next time." Carol Coultas, editor, MaineBiz
"The waterfront, both lake and river, were beautiful. The Pfister was beautiful. It also is a clean city. I felt safe walking around by myself, even after 9 p.m. I enjoyed the food. I LOVED seeing the pedal tavern go by while we were at Graffito's restaurant. I also loved the visit to the Press Club bar…you are lucky to have something so historic and interesting in your city. Also, I really loved the architecture and was often the one in the group, as we walked to a restaurant, pointing and asking, 'What is that building?' While waiting at Newark airport, I was joking via Twitter with two NJBIZ coworkers who hail from the Midwest (including Wisconsin) about how I couldn't wait to encounter all the stereotypically 'nice' people. But I found there is a reason for the 'nice' stereotype for Midwesterners: most everyone I encountered WAS very friendly and nice. I even noticed the driving habits were different, with drivers letting another car go instead of giving them a not-so-nice hand signal. At the intersection of East Michigan Street and North Lincoln Memorial Drive (on my way to the Pilot House), a jogger who was stopped at the light started chatting with me (again, that niceness). I commented to him about the 'weird' traffic, with drivers being nice to each other. He replied: 'We are soft-bellied Midwesterners, but give us time and we'll flip you the bird. Hard.' And he said it in a very nice way. Can you tell I had a fun time?" Sharon Waters, editor, NJBIZ
"Briefly, what Milwaukee has accomplished in the Third Ward and throughout the downtown is something that all American cities would do well to emulate. The city is accessible, interesting, uses its natural resource – i.e. the lake – to great effect, and makes the visitor want to return." Mark Murphy, editor, Providence Business News
"As the temperature in Norfolk nears the upper 90s with humidity of nearly 50 percent, I long for another cool evening sitting outside Ryan Braun's Graffito enjoying dessert and watching the bridges open for the boats to pass by. It didn't hurt that someone else was picking up the bill either. I've never been to Milwaukee before and wasn't that excited about going there. But I was surprised by how much I liked it and wish I'd had more time to explore the city, its museums and art galleries and the surrounding area. Other editors were planning vacations around the conference, and I wish I'd convinced my husband that we should have done the same. So needless to say, I'm thinking about how we might get back there someday." Carol Lichti, editor, Inside Business, Norfolk, Va.