20-something achievers balance community support, profession and personal life
Story by Lee Marie Reinsch
The last time you got together with friends, did you sit around thinking, “How can we make this an amazing place to live?”
Riiiight…But these are the actual thoughts thought by actual people who actually exist.
And they’re young people, beings who by all rights should be too busy tracking Squirtle and Pikachu or texting their 5,000 friends to care about saving the world.
This year’s New North B2B 3 Under 30 honorees chuck negative stereotypes of the lazy, narcissistic, no-initiative Millennial out the window. They care about their communities. They’re involved in causes bigger than they are. They turn off their devices long enough to change their environments. And they’re making northeast Wisconsin a better place to live.
Pop-up community servant
Jenna Floberg and some others from Young Professionals of Fond du Lac were hanging out brainstorming one day when the idea for Pop-Up Fond du Lac popped into their heads. They’d just heard TEDx speaker Greg Tehven talk about creating world-class experiences in small communities, and they were pumped.
“We were like ‘Hey, we have to do this for Fond du Lac and make Fond du Lac an amazing place,’” Floberg, 27, said. “We said let’s just do something fun for the community, even if we’re the only ones who come.”
‘Something fun for the community’ turned out to be the first Pop-Up Fond du Lac event: a two-day crepe cafe in a vacant building this past June that drew 1,000 people downtown. They invited local musicians and artists.
“We’re using all the money from the first event to support other Pop-Up events to revive Fond du Lac, build some energy, create that positive buzz that people love so much,” Floberg said. Next pop-up event: an outdoor movie.
Floberg serves on the board of directors for Young Professionals Fond du Lac (YPF) and leads YPF engagement efforts within Agnesian HealthCare, where she’s assistant administrator at St. Francis Home.
“She’s a strong advocate for community development and coaches others on the benefits of being involved in, and engaged with, our community,” wrote Holly Brenner, Agnesian’s vice president of strategic development and marketing, in nominating Floberg for this year’s 3 Under 30 honor.
Further illustrating that point: Floberg heard the local food pantry lacked donations of personal-hygiene items and thought about what it would be like to be a kid in a family unable to afford toothpaste. She came up with wellness bags – backpacks filled with shampoo, deodorant, bodywash, etc. With funding from Agnesian, she lead an effort to buy supplies, fill the backpacks, and deliver them to places such as the Boys & Girls Club of Fond du Lac.
Brenner called Floberg a positive force in the workplace and beyond. “Agnesian and especially its long-term care division really benefitted from her energy in general, and both the residents and the people she worked with really responded to her,” Brenner said. “From a work and business standpoint, she just made an immediate impact.”
Floberg is a fellow with I-Lead, a leadership academy of the statewide long-term care industry association, LeadingAge Wisconsin. Last fall, YPF named Floberg one of its Future 5 winners. And she’s been selected for this fall’s 2016-2017 Leadership Fond du Lac cohort.
“What makes her special is that she definitely gets things done, and she can be tough when she needs to be tough,” Brenner said. “She brings a lot of fun – not in a silly, giddy way – but she adds a little levity when appropriate.”
The two-day Pop- Up Cre pe Cafe definitely added levity. It generated enthusiasm, captured media attention, and was the kind of place that made you stop and take a look, Brenner said.
“But what was really special was the camaraderie, the relationships, the enthusiasm and the concept that Fond du Lac is a really nice town and we can do neat things if we just put our heads together,” Brenner said. “That to me was a little demonstration of Jenna’s ability to lead people, motivate people, to do something for the greater good. In this case, it’s building Fond du Lac as a great place where people want to be, which is exactly why I wanted to nominate her.”
Floberg said Pop-Up Fond du Lac shows that a few people can make a difference.
“We just wanted to create something fun for the community and show that there are opportunities to do new, fun and innovative things, that it doesn’t have to take a huge group to do that,” she said.
Floberg said she’s motivated by her father, who was active in her hometown of Ladysmith. “I was inspired by his passion for giving and serving,” she said. “One thing he always said was that he was brought here to serve, and I just resonate with that.”
He died of cancer when she was 18.
“I don’t know if I’m driven so much by trying to make my dad proud now that he’s not here, but I get so much of my energy from seeing him while I was growing up,” she said.
Floberg said people who are super-involved in their communities are a “different breed.”
“It just fuels you – I crave it, I need it,” she said. “It just fulfills me so much to be able to see the good that I do in the community.”
Creating solutions thru a fresh perspective
Problems are no problem for Heather Mueller, vice president of Breakthrough Experience at Breakthrough Fuel in Green Bay. She views them as opportunities to employ her creativity.
“I love to test out new ideas and apply something I learned somewhere else to a new challenge that I’m facing,” Mueller, 28, said. “Because I’ve been given so much freedom to test new ideas and bring new solutions to the table, I’ve been able to have an impact on the business because I get to put my creativity to work in a way that’s a natural fit for my skill set.”
The 28-year-old Green Bay resident was hired four years ago as manager of market creation and has been promoted twice. She’s now one of six on the senior leadership team for her company, which specializes in energy management for the transportation sector.
“Heather is exceptional at taking situations that have never been done before and thinking about ways to attack and create solutions where we didn’t even know problems existed,” said Craig Dickman, CEO and chief innovation officer of Breakthrough Fuel. “She’s able to work and bring life to things that are conceived where there’s no script for, and that really requires a combination of collaborating with people in a really deep and meaningful way and the ability to bring it from concept to reality.”
He said it’s an “extraordinarily rare quality” seen in very few people.
“I think it really sets her apart and distinguishes her not only within the organization, but in the community as someone who can bring those skills to the community as well,” Dickman said. “She brings an incredible set of fresh eyes to a situation.”
But simply excelling in her career, landing promotions and being lauded by her company CEO isn’t enough for Mueller to warrant resting on her laurels.
“When I moved back to Green Bay, I really wanted to get involved with the downtown community because I was living and working here,” she said.
The downtown farmers market committee served as a springboard for further involvement in the community. She’s on the board of directors for Meyer Theatre, serves on the City of Green Bay Plan Commission, is a member of Current young professionals, and she’s been involved with the Greater Green Bay Chamber marketing committee.
“Downtowns in general could use more strong young professional voices in their committees and community engagement activities, and I think young professionals as a whole are underrepresented,” she said. “This was a good opportunity to get involved.”
She’s encouraged her workplace to get involved in community causes by creating a community-engagement team at Breakthrough.
Dickman said its purpose is “to make decisions about where Breakthrough gets involved in the community, where we spend our money in the community, how we connect with community activities, how we connect with community initiatives to provide meaningful support in ways that represent what our team is looking for.”
Mueller also helps coordinate the annual Breakthrough Fuel Food Pantry collection competition. Teams of employees get $1,000 to purchase as many items made by their clients as possible. This year’s competition collected more than 3,500 food and hygiene-related products.
When asked two years ago by the city Plan Commission to be part of Green Bay’s downtown master plan development, she viewed it as an opportunity to learn something new.
“It was something I hadn’t known I had an interest in,” she said. “I really enjoyed the process – plus I have a lot of ideas that I like to share.”
Mueller doesn’t even rest on weekends. She makes the four-hour drive to Chicago, where she’s working on her master’s degree in business administration at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and co-chairs the Booth Leadership Group.
She recently returned from a month studying in Paris.
“I’m at my best when I have a lot of things going on because I find myself making connections across all the things I’m doing. It’s funny how some sort of conversation I had with the Meyer Theater Board will connect to something we talked about in class, which will lead to an idea of a new way to approach something else,” she said. “When I have the most things going on, I find that I have the most new ideas to apply to what I’m doing.”
Inspiring positive dreams in Green Bay
Next time you see kids peddling Kool-Aid, try not to think about sticky fingers on the lip of your cup, or how long the sugary liquid’s been stewing in the sun. Instead, envision them telling people in a few years about the early start they got in the world of business.
“I was always the kid with the lemonade stand in summers, trying to make money so my friends and I could go to the movies,” said Andrew Fabry, 27, president and co-founder of Badger State Brewing Co. in Ashwaubenon. Looking back on his childhood, he said the clues to his entrepreneurial future were there all along:
“I was always building stuff with Legos. Maybe that’s why we’ve undergone so much construction around here trying to build things and make things better at the brewery,” Fabry said.
Although Badger State Brewing Co. has been open less than three short years, it’s recorded some pretty large accomplishments, including two additions.
Fabry and two partners launched the craft brewery in late 2013 in a former locker room. By the following July, they’d snagged a gold medal at the U.S. Open Beer Championship in Atlanta. It was the first of multiple gold and silver accolades they’ve garnered their first few years.
In 2015 came the 10,000-sq. ft. taproom, brew house and canning operation addition along with the outdoor beer garden.
“We wanted a nice, inviting place for people to come in and hang out,” Fabry said. “We looked at the overall scope of what does it take to be a destination brewery where you could come in and spend more than an hour, not just have a drink, but a tour, a tasting, and hang out with friends in the outdoor space – the beer garden – and play lawn games.”
This summer, the company opened its second addition, the Barrel Haus event room, spurred by requests for larger and corporate events, bringing the total space up to 25,000 square feet.
Badger State Brewing sells its five flagship beers in 16-ounce cans and its limited-run specialty varieties in 750-ml bottles to retail and commercial locations. Visitors to the taproom can try pilot varieties on tap. The brew house holds tours on Saturdays.
Fabry said his company has given to more than 100 benefits and other charitable groups in its three years. In April, some 800 runners participated in the first Badger State 10K run, raising money for the Boys & Girls Club of Green Bay and Center for Childhood Safety in Green Bay.
Fabry said it’s a way of paying it forward. “They’re people from our community, and we would hope that if we were in that kind of situation, other people would be willing to support us the way they’ve supported us just by patronizing our business,” Fabry said. “We’ve gotten a lot bigger a lot faster because of the people right here in our backyards.”
Fabry comes from a small business family. His mother is still involved in the glove company his grandfather founded, Saranac in Ashwaubenon, formerly Fabry Glove & Mitten Co. He grew up seeing how hard his parents worked.
“My parents were very hardworking people who pretty much came from very poor families and worked a lot of different jobs,” he said. “I felt a responsibility to carry on and continue that hardworking nature in the family, but then also create something I could call my own and that my business partners could call their own.”
Fabry said when he moved back to Green Bay from Madison, he found it lacking in hip places for young professionals, and his friends were moving to larger cities.
“They don’t see the opportunities here, they don’t see Green Bay as a place they want to live at the age that they’re at, and I said if more people don’t set up shop here and open places like that and start those kind of businesses, then this is going to keep happening,” Fabry said. “You can either wait for someone else to do something, or you can do it yourself, and I just kind of decided the time is right. I’m young. What do I have to lose?”
Fabry aimed to create something that would continue to positively affect the area in several ways.
“We’re creating jobs, we’re contributing to the sales tax,” he said. “We’re growing a manufacturing business that eventually will distribute its products throughout the state of Wisconsin, which is pretty cool.”
Fabry said he’d like to remain involved with the community and host events that make Greater Green Bay and northeast Wisconsin more fun. He was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Green Bay Craft Beer Week, a seven-day event featuring the area’s breweries, brew pubs, alehouses, and craft-focused bars, restaurants and retailers. He and two other Green Bay brewers launched the inaugural event in 2015. The second annual affair this past May featured more than 80 events at 25 different venues across the Greater Green Bay area.
“I hope that maybe there are people out there who see guys like myself who’ve maybe thought about creating their own business or starting something and say ‘Hey, maybe I could do it. I’ve seen other people do it who are my age or younger, maybe there’s a possibility,’” he said. “If you get just a handful of people who are convinced to follow their dream and their passion because they’ve seen what we’ve done … then maybe we’ll make this place a better place than it was when we found it.”
Lee Reinsch of Green Bay worked 18 years at daily newspapers before launching her freelance business, edgewise, in 2007.