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With Lots of Jobs to Fill, Fond du Lac Starts Unlikely Brag Campaign

Midwesterners generally aren't pegged as braggarts. More like humble, hard working, down-to-earth, can-do folks who don't shy away from a big idea.

In the Wisconsin city of Fond du Lac, you could add “grit to produce remarkable things” to that list of descriptors. In a move to attract job seekers, the local business chamber in this lakeshore community did some investigative work on a mission to unearth stories of originality, including the quirky and unexpected, along with awards and accolades. Their hard work turned up some gems that potential transplants should get a kick out of. The chamber is also hoping the broader credentials serve as the tiebreak in getting people to relocate to Fond du Lac.

Fond du Lac, French for “far end of the lake” which accurately describes the city's geographic spot on the southern shore of Lake Winnebago, has long been categorized as blue collar. While manufacturing continues to rule much of the community footprint, the chamber knew it needed to up its PR game and paint a much fuller and more accurate picture, sort of like when a celebrity publicist cranks up the publicity machine because their client's image needs a brush-up.

According to Melissa Worthington, the vice president of the Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce, the first step was to remind residents of everything the community has to offer, including some finds that longtime locals may not have know about.

“We're all probably guilty of this at some point, taking for granted what's right in front of our nose,” noted Worthington. “No more, at least not here, if we want to be the new 'it' spot for job seekers in our neck of the woods.”

So what did their detective work turn up?

For starters, they learned that major employer Mercury Marine has major celebrity connections. “Celebrities such as Luke Bryan, Michael Jordan and Don Johnson have been known to ride boats powered by a Mercury engine” revealed Worthington. For fishing enthusiasts, here's a tidbit that probably more appealing - the four major bass fishing titles in 2014 were won by anglers who run a Mercury engine.

For fans of long-nosed cars, Mid-States Aluminum Corp. manufactured a part for the new Camaro.

Quad Graphics, a printing giant, ships such massive quantities of magazines and catalogs that it has its own zip code. The company also has the world's largest privately held corporate art collection featuring contemporary lithographs, etchings and screen prints.

Interior Systems Inc. is the designer and manufacturer behind the interiors of more McDonald's restaurants than any other company. Their work even includes those iconic Ronald McDonald statues that the most overzealous fans of the chain are known to absconded with.

Baker Cheese is rumored to have pushed American string cheese into commercial production and is the country's largest family-owned purveyor of the product. In fact, they only make string cheese - no cheese curds here - redefining what it is to be a specialty cheese maker.

The oldest playground company in the U.S is in Fond du Lac. BCI Burke Company, started in 1920,  invented Funnel Ball®, that playground standard with a basket at the top that feeds into four chutes. Ah, simple pleasures.

Aside from fun and games, the city also claims honors as being one of the top 20 safest metropolitan statistical areas in the country, plus its housing costs run nearly 30 percent lower than the national average and the overall cost of living comes in at eight percent below the U.S. average. They're ranked in the top 20 nationally for manufacturing job growth from 2010-2014. All the accolades are spelled out loud and proud on the chamber's new job search portal.

“We realized we shouldn't be playing second fiddle to other cities our size in other parts of the country,” said Worthington. “We're actually a pretty hip business center, worthy of a little bragging.”

Just not too much bragging, though. After all, it's not the Wisconsin way.    

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