Guest Column: Mayville visit shows state-local development partnership in action

WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes

One of the most critical things we do as economic development leaders in Wisconsin is to build thriving communities. When our communities flourish, existing businesses grow, new businesses are attracted, and workers find a safe, welcoming place to raise their families.

During a recent visit to Mayville, Deputy Secretary Sam Rikkers and I had the chance to see up close how WEDC works with local partners to build prosperous communities through efforts like the Main Street and Connect Communities programs and Community Development Investment grants.

While we were there, we announced that the city is receiving a $250,000 Community Development Investment grant for the Albrecht School Apartments, which will create 20 apartments and a commercial space in the century old former Mayville High School – an iconic red brick building in the heart of downtown.

A city of about 5,000 people just east of the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Mayville has been making smart investments in their downtown through support for facade improvements, adding creative amenities, historic renovation and making use of state resources to lure both residents and visitors to their city center along the Rock River.

In addition to the CDI grant for the apartment development, WEDC has supported other projects in the city, including Main Street Makeover winner Fred’s Beds and More, the nonprofit Open Door Coffeehouse and Sweet Pea’s Pie.

“What we’re trying to do is turn Mayville into a destination for new businesses and travel enthusiasts,” Dawn Gindt, manager of Mayville’s Main Street Program and Chamber of Commerce administrator, told us. “We are a rural community. We have the same struggles everyone does in terms of funding. WEDC and their continued generous support has really helped us make great strides.”

Mayville leaders say preserving the city’s historic downtown – many buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places — is key to making the community attractive to visitors and residents.

Andres Lezama and his wife, Lindsey, have longstanding ties to the former high school they’re renovating.

Lezama is the owner of Mayville’s BYCO Floor and Tile – a business started by his grandparents in 1953. He has already uncovered some family history as work begins on the renovating the school where his great-grandmother once taught.

At an open house this summer, Lezama says he was overwhelmed by residents who came and shared their memories of the school, including a couple in their 80s who asked him to take a photo of them in the spot where they first met.

Memories like that are the reason why Lezama said the project is trying to preserve as much of the historic building as possible while still making needed modern updates. It would be cost prohibitive without the $250,000 grant from WEDC, he told us.

It was the historic look and amazing people that convinced Rachel Smith and her husband, Kyle, to relocate their pie business to Mayville after finding the perfect Main Street building for their business. Sweet Pea’s Pie opened last year with the help of a $31,000 Community Development Investment grant from WEDC.

One of the first things to draw their attention to Mayville during an unplanned stop on a road trip was the Open Door Coffeehouse. Since then, Open Door has outgrown its former home and has a new, accessible Main Street space that allows the nonprofit to offer more programming and serve more people, said Amber Schraufnagel, president and founder of Mayville Open Door.

The nonprofit uses the funds raised by the coffeehouse to support its work offering mental health and parenting support as well as youth programming. WEDC supported the new coffeehouse with a $137,500 Community Development Investment grant.

The new space allows the group to offer multiple programs at once. The coffeehouse has become a go-to meeting spot for other groups in the city including Girl Scouts and a local veterans’ group that meets weekly.

Even in an historic downtown, one new business has a brand-new look thanks to WEDC’s Main Street Makeover.

A team from WEDC and Milwaukee design firm Retailworks worked with business owners Jeff and Janine Andes to create a new look for Fred’s Beds and More, a furniture and home décor store.  WEDC provided up to $10,000 to carry out the plans in June.

“I feel completely hopeful,” Janine Andes said. “The community members have been so supportive.  I think it means a lot to them that business owners are willing to invest in the city they call home.”

City officials are hoping that when the Albrecht School Apartments are completed, more people – and more businesses – will call Mayville home. And Mayville is a reminder to all of us of what we can achieve if we work together and focus our efforts on making Wisconsin a home for everyone.

Missy Hughes is Secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the state’s leading economic development organization.