Meet the Panelists – Branding Milwaukee: Who the Hell Are We?

In the second event of the monthly series, panelists will discuss how Milwaukee can rebrand itself to the outside world.

Milwaukee has long been known to outsiders for beer and brats, but not much else. Recently, however, the city has been making efforts to reinvent itself to the world. But success has been limited. Does Milwaukee have an image problem? Are we the Silicon Valley of Water? What can we do to attract top talent to our city?

MilMag Live: Will we ever shake the beer 'n brat, Lavern & Shirley image?

We’re bringing our pages to life and generating conversation in the Milwaukee community with a new monthly event series, MilMag Live! @ the Back Room at Colectivo. Branding Milwaukee: Who the Hell Are We? is the topic of conversation for the February 13th edition. A panel of diverse voices will be on hand at Monday’s event to discuss how Milwaukee can conquer its longstanding identity crisis. 

Let’s meet the panel!

Ian Abston knows what it takes to be a young leader in Milwaukee. The 28-year-old founded NEWaukee, a 3-year-old organization that aims to inspire young professionals to explore the city and work toward making it a better place to live. Today, Abston provides large corporate clientele in Milwaukee and surrounding Midwest regions with consultation on attracting, engaging and keeping their millennial workforce. Abston believes water, tech and innovation are areas in which Milwaukee could find its niche. 

“Once we peel back the layers and the old mentality, the old-waukee starts to go away, and we can integrate the ideas of the younger generation into what the city can become.” – Ian Abston

Rich Meeusen. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

Rich Meeusen, chief executive officer at Badger Meter and the driving force behind the Milwaukee-based Water Council, is passionate about developing fresh water technologies that will save lives. Meeusen believes the success of such technologies has the potential to re-brand the city, drive economic development and one day make Milwaukee “the Silicon Valley of water technology.”

Corry Joe Biddle, executive director at FUEL Milwaukee, thinks Milwaukee is stuck in a generational rut, where the older generation can’t figure out what changes need to be made, and the younger generation isn’t yet ready to take on a leading position. Biddle believes grassroots organizing and social media are the breeding ground for younger leaders.

Steve Kodis is a freelance graphic designer, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate and Milwaukee enthusiast who launched the 2015 effort to pick a new flag for the city. Like Meeusen, Kodis also believes fresh water is something that permeates Milwaukee culture and has the potential to expand Milwaukee’s identity.

Steve Kodis. Photo courtesy of Steve Kodis.

“Whether it’s The Silicon Valley of Water, The Fresh Coast or a Great Place on a Great Lake, there’s no doubt that our proximity to Lake Michigan, and our three rivers, are the life blood of this city; perhaps our greatest assets. I believe Milwaukee has embraced this and should continue to do so. Hell, we’ve even got a flag that embraces this!” – Steve Kodis

Tom Bamberger. Photo courtesy of Tom Bamberger

Tom Bamberger, photographer and opinionated Milwaukee native, is sure to keep the discussion interesting with his honest and unique approach to Milwaukee’s identity crisis. 

Laura Vanderbilt is the lead graphic designer for the City of Milwaukee/City Clerk’s Office. “It’s possible that Milwaukee is too humble,” Vanderbilt said. “If people are surprised and delighted when they get here, I suppose that means most don’t know about Milwaukee’s great vibe, which means Milwaukeeans may be too humble to mention it.” Vanderbilt doesn’t believe that Milwaukee has an image problem. In fact, according to her, Milwaukee doesn’t have much of an image in the first place. And she doesn’t see that as a problem: “Let’s NOT let the cat out of the bag about how great Milwaukee is,” she said, citing the easy accessibility and livability of our city compared with neighboring Chicago.

Image courtesy of Laura Vanderbilt

RSVP to MilMag Live on Facebook, and get your tickets here.



Elisabeth Wallock is a contributing digital editor at Milwaukee Magazine. She graduated from Colorado State University and has interned at Marie Claire in New York and Urban Outfitters in London.