Small Town America with Big City Amenities
Outdoor delights and a tangible community embrace, Sheboygan, Wisconsin has it all
With the tagline, ‘Something for Everyone,’ Sheboygan Wisconsin really is a city with much to offer.From its ideal location on the shores of Lake Michigan to its historic downtown, and much in between, Sheboygan truly does offer a diverse experience, for residents and visitors alike.
Mayor Ryan Sorenson, shares, “I have the honor and privilege of being the mayor of my hometown. I was born and raised here. Growing up Sheboygan had so much to offer. We’re big enough that you can try new things, but small enough that you can know who your neighbors are, and who your colleagues are as well. While it might be that quintessential Americana, the small city feels, we still have some wildly unique assets that make our community strong.”
He notes that Lake Michigan, and the recreational opportunities it provides, is one of the community’s greatest assets, adding, “The water has been a key part of our identity. You talk about recreation, fishing, surfing even, we’re the number one freshwater surf capital of the world, there are so many different opportunities and access on our beaches and waterfront.”
There is no shortage of businesses in Sheboygan, all of which add to the strength of the community. Naming multi-generational family-owned companies such as Kholer, Johnsonville Sausages, and Sargento Cheese, Sorenson acknowledges the value of those businesses, not only for the employment opportunities they bring but also in helping Sheboygan to remain at the forefront of innovation and success.
He recounts, “When you talk about some of our larger employers in the area, they have grown and expanded, but you also see a lot of innovation from some of our smaller locations too.” He references the Sheboygan Pasty Company, which started out serving the local market and has grown to provide its product across the Midwest.
“It’s also the small business entrepreneurs that are making significant investments right here in our community,” he asserts. “Our medium-sized businesses have seen great success too. We just recently provided Old World Creamery with a business development grant, and they’re adding several new lines and adding more employment as well. It’s been the silver lining of the pandemic, where folks invested more and saw the benefit of doing business in Sheboygan.”
On the subject of housing, Director of Planning and Development, Chad Pelishek, admits, “Affordable housing, like any other community across the nation, is a struggle here. So, a big piece of our infrastructure plan is really about trying to redevelop.” Outlining some plans for development that include infilling of central areas of the city, and the purchase of additional lands to expand affordable subdivisions, he conveys, “In 2021 we completed an affordable housing market study that determined that we need 1000 to 2000 new apartments and another 4000 to 5000 single-family housing units over the course of the next 5 to 10 years. We have a lot of work ahead of us to meet the demands of our employers, and we’re up for the challenge.”
As a historic community, there is also a continuous need to update infrastructure within Sheboygan, and the city is prepared to incorporate this into its growth plans. “Currently, we do a lot of our own paving, we’ve got our own paving machine, and our Department of Public Works does a lot of road upgrades,” Pelishek describes. “We also go after state and federal department of transportation grants to help supplement the funding stream as it relates to that.”
A city is only as strong as its partnerships, and Pelishek says the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce is a valued partner. He remarks, “Their executive director sits on our redevelopment authority and other city committees, and they also focus a lot on trying to include new residents into the community, connecting them with opportunities and building that culture around what we have going on here.”
The Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation is another valued relationship, especially in terms of workforce recruitment. The recent introduction of the EDC’s workforce development program, ‘Someplace Better,’ is helping businesses to attract workers, while promoting Sheboygan as an ideal place to live, work, and play. “At any given stage, we have 3,500 to 4000 positions open in a county of 115,000, and the city’s unemployment rate is less than 2%. In order to fill positions in this county, we need to recruit from the outside and our quality of life and our partners in the Economic Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce are key to helping us do that,” Pelishek says.
Collaboration with higher education institutions, such as Lakeshore Technical College, Lakeland University, and UW Green Bay Sheboygan Campus is also vital to workforce development, as well as providing higher education options that keep youth in the community. However, engagement with students starts much earlier.
Pelishek suggests, “We know that we need to be competitive and really start engaging with students at younger ages.” From simple projects like water sampling and trash clean up to STEM activities at the local library, children in the community are exposed to the variety of opportunities the city has to offer.
“We’ve partnered with a number of larger companies that recruit chemical engineers and those types of folks, to provide opportunities at our public library, at our visitor center, and different places that we can engage with younger demographics to get them interested in these types of discipline,” he explains. “As they move up through the school system there are partnerships with the colleges. There’s a lot of creativity happening in that field, as well as bringing engineering degrees and different kinds of maintenance degrees here so that we can start training our workforce at a younger age and getting them interested in staying here and taking jobs in one of our local companies.”
Relaying that he tries to maintain an open-door policy as much as possible, the mayor says he values input and engagement from the community. Social media is another tool utilized by the city to keep constituents engaged and informed. “Social media has been something that we’re trying to increase, making sure that we’re having more presence, as well exploring different platforms so we can keep young folks engaged too,” Sorenson portrays.
Keeping up to date with new technology is also a priority, and the city has rolled out a new app called MyCivic, which connects residents to a wide range of community information and resources.
He continues, “Utilizing the new technology is something that we’re really relying on. We are also working on a new iteration of our strategic plan, and getting information and feedback from residents was important. We did focus groups as well, making sure we’re getting diverse populations across the community, but also doing a city-wide survey and making sure we’re getting a lot of input from folks, just to get their ideas of where they want the city to be in the next five years. That helps us stay motivated and inspired to do good work in our community.”
As for what is next for this community on the rise, Mayor Sorenson boasts, “We have so many irons in the fire right now. We’re doing an updated comprehensive outdoor plan, we’re working on updating our strategic plan, and we’re working on updating our comprehensive plan, which is the physical plan to guide the city forward.” Significant infrastructure upgrades are also on the agenda, and Sheboygan has been awarded a grant through the Department of Transportation to build a pedestrian bridge in the riverfront district, further adding to the connectivity of the city.
“The stars really aligned here. We have a great business environment, a great educational system, and a great place to live, work and play. Making sure that folks can thrive and have a great life is something that’s central to us when we do work with our entities,” he concludes.
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AT A GLANCE
What: A thriving city with a workforce and quality of life opportunities, on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Where: Sheboygan County, Wisconsin
Lakeshore Technical College – www.gotoltc.edu
Success Starts Here
Lakeshore Technical College is a nationally recognized, comprehensive community and technical college serving the greater Sheboygan area. Lakeshore educates more than 8,000 students annually who enroll to master real-world, employable career skills and begin their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. A 2022 economic impact report shows the college impacts one out of every 45 jobs in the area.
Thanks to a growing number of partnerships with four-year universities, students who begin pursuing their bachelor’s degrees at Lakeshore now have more options for completing those degrees. Students completing their Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree at Lakeshore can transfer with guaranteed junior standing to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Lakeland University.
“Thanks to our partnership universities, our students and community have more options available to start on the path to their bachelor’s degree in an affordable manner close to home,” says Lakeshore President Dr. Paul Carlsen.
Both degrees cover general education requirements for a student whose goal is to complete their bachelor’s degree. Both also allow students to select elective courses that appeal to their future career plans.
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