Wausau advocate: City ‘isn’t what it isn’t’
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WAUSAU - When Emily Voss graduated from college four years ago, she had a decision tomake.Should she move home and open her own photography studio, or take a chance and move to New York, where she’d be one of many trying to break into a competitive industry?
The decision was difficult, but the 2009 Wausau West High School graduate decided to move back home. She opened her own photography business, VOSStudios, just days after graduating from Luther College in Iowa. Aside from having a client base already established in Wausau, there were other things that attracted Voss back to the area. Specifically, it’s a community that supports and fosters artists of all types. Voss, now 25, has become an advocate for the arts and their impact on the community."Being a photographer, I really love the arts community in Wausau. I just think we have ourselves a little diamond in the rough that people don’t know about," Voss said. "But when people find out, it’s like ‘Holy cow! This is in a small community like this?’" Art has started to become its own form of marketing for the city, drawing in artists of all kinds.
"The draw for me would have been the arts community and all the different opportunities with-
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Featured artist Emily Voss works on her piece during Chalkfest in downtown Wausau, July 9, 2016.
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in that community," Voss said.
"For me, it’s seeing events out there that are unique and fun, whether it’s dance lessons or the 10x10 (a $10 live music series) at The Grand or little concerts. Or even cool little quirky things or coffee shops, just the fun vibe in the downtown district. It’s just a fun community."
The growing art scene wasn’t the only factor attracting young professionals to Wausau.
For Nick O’Brien, the community engagement specialist for MCDEVCO, an economic development group, the feeling of finding a community full of like-minded people is what’s kept him here over the course of four years and a career change.
"While it may be hard for a new person to break in, once you’re in, gosh, it feels like you’re at home," O’Brien, 27, said. "Because you’ve got this community of people with the same types of ideas, the same types of passions."
Though he started in broadcast television, his passion for Wausau has led O’Brien into community development, because he wants other young professionals to see what he sees in the city.
"What Wausau is, isn’t what it isn’t," he said.
It isn’t a city where you have to pay $30 to park your car for the day, for example, or spend an hour in line for beer. But it has some of the same amenities as larger cities.
O’Brien has been an advocate among young professionals, helping to tie Wausau into a statewide movement called Newaukee. Newaukee is an organization that started to bring groups of young people together in Milwaukeeand has expanded statewide through YP Week, which is at the endof April each year.Jeremy Fojut, a cofounder and the chief idea officer at Newaukee, has watched Wausau open up to millennials and start to attract young professionals who might have otherwise ended up in big cities. The city of Wausau was home to more than 8,400 residents ages 20 to 34 in the 2015 census estimate, which was an increase of almost 900 people that age since the year 2000."Wausau is making sure there’s a heartbeat to the city," Fojut said.The downtown area, he said, is attracting people because within a few blocks they can go to a Broadway show at The Grand and also enjoy outdoor activities, like a world-class kayaking course. With a short drive, residents can ski, hike and bike."The approach the city has taken on urbanism is drawing people in," he said. Though Wausau is starting to attract more passionate young people, it’s still experiencing some growing pains.
"My biggest issue coming back was housing,"Voss said.The city of Wausau has started to work toward addressing the housing problem, though, and in the meantime, community organizations have begun to help boost the image of the city. One example is the hundreds of colorful umbrellas that were hung above the street just outside the Wausau Center mall, among the first displays of its kind in thecountry."Things like the umbrellas, that was a great step forward here," O’Brien said. "People came from across the state to see those. Now we’re starting to turn people’s heads. Like maybe you’ve got four theaters downtown, but (Wausau) has one in the top 200 in the world. And we’ve got these cool umbrellas, and we’ve got art galleries. And people are starting to use these things as ammo in their guns of supportfor Wausau."
Contact Going Out reporter Laura Schulte at 715-297-7532 or leschulte @gannett.com; on Twitter@schultelaura.
Nick O'Brien, community engagement specialist for MCDEVCO, poses for a photo in the Wausau Club building.
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