Floating all boats

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There is no better sign of Milwaukee becoming a national destination for conventions than to look at what is coming to Milwaukee this year. Crowning our efforts to attract multicultural business are these major high-profile conventions that will convene in Milwaukee in 2005 and put the national spotlight on our city – the NAACP and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
This is an incredible opportunity to show the country and its leaders that our community is coming together in a meaningful way. Both the Wisconsin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the local chapter of the NAACP are receiving tremendous support from many local businesses and other members of the community.
To date, more than $3 million
dollars has been raised to support
these conventions.
The community-wide effort to support conventions is truly building bridges and exemplifies a city that is becoming more inclusive, where diversity is recognized as a strength.
In addition, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. will celebrate its 125th agent meeting in Milwaukee, and Miller Brewing Co. will bring its national business conference to Milwaukee in April to mark the company’s 150th anniversary.
All told, this will be a record year of conventions in Milwaukee, with 29 national groups coming to the Midwest Airlines Center.
With all these activities and visitors in town, there are ample opportunities for businesses to get involved by taking the initiative and seeing how your company can play a role in delivering a memorable experience for these thousands of out-of-town guests.
Image continuity will be important, as so many visitors come to Milwaukee for the first time.
Make no mistake, image is everything in the tourism business. After almost 10 years of being known as the "Genuine American City," the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau recently changed its name to Visit Milwaukee and unveiled a new logo depicting the Santiago Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum.
As the organization charged with marketing the image of Milwaukee to a worldwide audience of convention planners and potential visitors, the new name and new logo make great sense and personify the evolution of the city.
The new name in its simplicity sends a direct message, and the logo with the Calatrava addition symbolizes the progressive "rebirth" of our city as a major convention and visitor destination.
The phrase, "Genuine American City," which was introduced in 1995, served us well. During that period, we made great strides in rebranding our city away from its "rustbelt" image to the beginnings of the urban renaissance. Milwaukee is not the city it was 10 years ago or even five years ago.
For thousands of convention-goers and visitors, Milwaukee has been known as "Brew City," a name reflective of our brewing heritage and "old world" cultural roots, which go back to the 19th century. Yes, many of these visitors, when in Milwaukee, want to "do" a brewery tour or visit one of our microbreweries and consume a "cold one." That’s great.
We believe our new name and logo change allows us to maintain our unique and distinctive characteristics such as our brewing heritage, but also moves us forward in support of our new and exciting tourism attractions and our evolution into a major league city when it comes to hotels, restaurants, sports and arts and cultural attractions.
The introduction of the new name and the new mark comes with another story. It’s a story of unprecedented cooperation and teamwork by a collective group of civic-minded people.
When the Spirit of Milwaukee formed its initial committee to create a new brand identity for the city a little over a year ago, it tapped local marketing professionals representing a diverse cross-section from the private and public sector. Mary Denis, Visit Milwaukee’s vice president of marketing, co-chaired the committee.
The acceptance and buy-in from the community since the new mark was unveiled a few weeks ago has been extraordinary. From newspaper editorials, to radio talk show hosts and their call-in guests, to local elected officials and community leaders, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a logo the entire community seems to be rallying behind.
The Calatrava addition to the Art Museum is becoming an identifying icon for Milwaukee and the new mark represents the innovative, progressive, dynamic and expansive vitality of the city. Our new name, Visit Milwaukee, also follows a trend by convention and visitors bureaus nationwide to simplify and standardize the message to consumers worldwide.
However, it takes more than a name change and logo to attract visitors and change our image. While the name change and the new logo serve as symbols of "new Milwaukee," they alone will not bring visitors here. A destination must have the attractions to support a robust tourism economy. We now have them, and the time is right to share our story with the world.
No more "well-kept secret." This genie is now out of the bottle!
Doug Neilson is president and CEO of Visit Milwaukee. He writes this column on the southeastern Wisconsin tourism industry exclusively for Small Business Times.
March, 4, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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