It was the summer of 1983.
I made a trip out west to Santa Barbara to attend a friend’s wedding. He had left Milwaukee for a very good job opportunity. Needless to say Santa Barbara provided a fabulous setting.
During my stay I met many California folks who were friends of the bride and groom. I’ll never forget one attractive young lady I was introduced to at the reception. She had a rather distinct “Valley Girl” delivery that became a bit more obnoxious when she learned where I traveled from. To this day the encounter is unforgettable.
Yes, Wisconsin. Milwaukee to be exact.
She then continued, saying something to the effect of…that’s where you have cows walking up and down your streets, and finished her less than educated comment with, “right?”
I paused a few moments, mindful of where I was, and also reminded myself that I might want to dance with this young maiden at some point in the evening.
“Well, no.” At that point I think I mentioned running water and phones you longer had to dial.
Years later I told the story again as part of an introduction to a WTMJ Radio documentary I wrote, voiced, and produced on Wisconsin’s image.
There was also a mention of cheeseheads. Laverne and Shirley. A recent story about UW-Madison students drinking shots out of the holes in bowling balls.
And to further prove a point, because it was radio I included the audio of this scene from “Home Alone.”
Our image was tantamount to Pee Wee Herman standing in the ring across from Mike Tyson.
My goodness, that was in the 90’s. Arguably the meter on how we’re looked upon hasn’t changed all that much, which is unfortunate given what we have to offer.
Along comes Kurt Bauer, the president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce who spoke at a luncheon Monday about this…
“It’s our state motto — has been since about 170 years ago — and it’s not a bad image to project to the rest of the world.”
But there’s this whole Foxconn thing. So the Dairyland deal has got to go.
“To me, ‘Forward’ connotes resolve, indomitability and progress,” said Bauer.
I get Bauer’s contention. However we can’t run away from what we are.
Though it’s awfully tempting.
On the other hand the significance of agriculture in Wisconsin is nothing to be sneezed, or laughed at.
Bolstered by 68,700 farms on 14.4 million acres, Wisconsin’s agriculture industry contributes $88.3 billion annually to our state’s economy. That’s snap beans, ginseng, cranberries, eggs, mink pelts, Christmas trees, and more.
Wisconsin agriculture provides jobs; annually, 413,500 jobs or 11.9% of the state’s employment. Every job in agriculture supports an additional 1.46 jobs elsewhere in Wisconsin.
If you just consider dairy, that portion contributes $43.4 billion to Wisconsin’s economy each year, fueling the state’s economy at more than $82,500 per minute.
(Source for above stats: Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection)
So, suggesting “America’s Dairyland” be dumped completely is going to be a tough sell.
What about some sort of branding that would include dairy and technology?
Fine. Just tell me how you do it easily, concisely, and without clutter to avoid an unclear message.
I certainly can appreciate Bauer’s “Jetsons” philosophy. It seems it would be similar to the battle faced by the 2017 Packers.
Meanwhile I sense in the days ahead at least one snarky column from the Windy City taking, you guessed it, potshots at our Hicksville reputation that suddenly is on the front burner.