It’s no secret that Milwaukee in recent years has been tagged with a list of discouraging distinctions – Milwaukee is slow to embrace new ideas; Milwaukee’s startup culture is non-existent; Milwaukee is segregated; Milwaukee is impoverished; Milwaukee can’t retain young professionals, etc.
And, for that reason, Milwaukee might be a tough selling point for local business leaders trying to attract new talent from outside the state.
But Jeremy Fojut chooses to see past the city’s challenges and focus on its assets. He helps others do the same as he spreads a different narrative about his hometown: Milwaukee is simply “unfinished.”
Fojut is the co-founder and chief idea officer of NEWaukee, and he is the recipient of the 2018 BizTimes Regional Spirit Award, which will be presented at the May 31 Bravo! Entrepreneur & I.Q. Awards luncheon during BizExpo at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.
Newaukee, which describes itself as a social architecture firm, organizes events and offers corporate branding and talent retention services, all focused on its mission of enhancing the employee experience by connecting people in new ways.
When Fojut founded the organization in 2009 with chief executive officer Angela Damiani, it functioned as a volunteer-run young professionals group. The founders both had full-time jobs and ran NEWaukee on the side. But eventually, they realized the group wasn’t serving the city’s greater needs, and they decided to rethink their vision.
“We started building programming that we thought was just different – it was based more on experience than just building events, and we realized the programs were gaining traction,” Fojut said.
Encouraged by positive community feedback, NEWaukee solidified its mission and established itself two years later as a for-profit organization. Its focus on human connections and the employee experience has since sparked programs such as Make it in Milwaukee and Milwaukee Concierge Services – two talent retention initiatives that welcome out-of-state employees to Milwaukee and integrate them into the community.
“In order to make a great place, people have to connect to it,” Fojut said. “You have to have their perception change, and I think the only way you can change a perception is through an in-person experience, as opposed to seeing something online.”
Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care Inc. last year utilized NEWaukee’s Make it in Milwaukee program to recruit potential employees from colleges across the Midwest. Students applied to win a free, three-day trip to Milwaukee to tour the city and learn about Aurora and its employment opportunities.
The students were interviewed at the end of the program, and when Aurora offered jobs on the spot, every student who received an offer accepted the position. Aurora will partner with NEWaukee again this year to recruit another cohort of students through Make it in Milwaukee, which will run from May 29 to June 1.
For companies attracting upper-level talent who may not have the same ease of mobility as a young post-grad professional, NEWaukee last year launched its Milwaukee Concierge Service and currently runs the program with five area companies.
During a candidate’s interview process, he or she is given a two-hour private tour of Milwaukee and its surrounding neighborhoods. When the candidate accepts the position, NEWaukee directs him or her to necessary resources for settling into a new city and home.
“This is so much better than a relocation service because we really know the city and we don’t have a vested interest in where they move or what house they buy,” Fojut said. “We want to make sure they land in a place that is representative of them.”
Attracting out-of-state professionals to grow the community, Fojut said, is one way NEWaukee chases its vision of a “finished” Milwaukee.