Census Bureau: Urban, Rural, Country, Rock ’n Roll


Census Bureau: Urban, Rural, Country, Rock n Roll


Star Wars has nothing to do with Donny and Marie Osmond and neither has anything to do with the U.S. Census Bureau. Until now, that is.

The opening crawl of the Star Wars film series begins, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…..” For old timers, the late 1970s isn’t exactly ancient history and a variety show called Donny & Marie could have been the center of a TV galaxy for millions of viewers. The brother-sister act ruled Friday night television with comedy skits, celebrity spots, and of course, songs.

A reoccurring segment was the so-called Concert Spot. Marie insisted she was a little bit country by performing a country music song, and Donny, who was a little bit roll and roll, would sing a popular rock ’n roll tune. Oh those two kids. What did they grow up to be?

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau is the primary statistical agency for the U.S. government. The Bureau goes back to another galaxy far, far away when Thomas Jefferson ordered the first census count in 1790. The U.S. Constitution requires a census every ten years and the results determine the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for each state along with the annual distribution of hundreds of billions of federal funds.

The results of the 2020 Census are now seeing the light of day. One topic is the classification of urban and rural areas. On one hand, Census said our nation’s urban population increased by 6.4 percent between 2010 and 2020. However, Census also announced it changed the way urban areas are defined.

Let’s set the stage. St. Croix and Pierce counties in Wisconsin are included in the federal definition of the 15-county Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI Metropolitan Area, a/k/a the Twin Cities Metro Area. Urban right? Tell that to the young lady on a $500,000 tractor in the middle of a few hundred acres of corn or beans or the operator of a five generation dairy farm and its 1,500 cows. Their perspectives are pretty rural. But to empty nesters wishing to be closer to grandchildren, St. Croix and Pierce may be ideal landing spots for urban qualities in small town settings. The Really Big Cities are across the St. Croix River in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Going back over 100 years, the Bureau used the threshold of 2,500 residents to define urban. As of late 2022, the revised definition is 5,000 residents. A community under 5,000 can still be classified as urban if it has at least 2,500 housing units.

Population in St. Croix’s Hudson, New Richmond, and River Falls are all above 5,000. They’re urban by virtue of both the Twin Cities Metro Area designation and their 2020 population estimates. Baldwin, with around 4,300 residents, was previously designated as urban, but is now rural. Ditto for Prescott (4,333) and Ellsworth (3,350) in Pierce County and Amery (2,962) and Osceola (2,765) in Polk County.

Confused? Don’t be. If you understand Star Wars and Donny & Marie, it’s possible to understand the Census Bureau. Urban or rural, Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley has plenty of wide open spaces and metro amenities to enjoy.

THX VETS Says it All


THX VETS Says it All


The state of Wisconsin first required motor vehicle registrations that included displaying license plates way back in 1905, according to Wikipedia, the all-knowing online encyclopedia. Today, vehicle registrations and plates are handled by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles. Plates measure 12 inches by 6 inches, are made of aluminum, and going back to June 2000, the format is three random letters and four random numbers, along the lines of ABC 1234.

From 1905 to 1911, Wisconsin’s plate design was a riveted serial number on a black plate, such as 32W, with “W” referencing Wisconsin. The serial format was 12345-W and ranged from 1-W to 21983-W. Does the long-lost 1-W still exist in the corner of an old barn?

Riveted numbers were replaced by the first series of embossed numbers in 1914. In 1940, “America’s Dairyland” slogan was introduced, and in 1986, new graphics included a sailboat and sunset, flying geese, and a farm scene. The slogan and graphics still exist.

Like other states, vanity or personalized plates are available in Wisconsin, subject to certain standards. WisDOT may refuse to issue, or may recall after issuance, a request that may be offensive to good taste or decency, misleading or conflicts with any other license plate. They come with a price. A $15 personalized plate fee is required each year in addition to the regular annual registration fee. Motorcycles and farm trucks, which are renewed biennially, cost an additional $15 for each year of registration.

WisDOT offers a search site to find out if personalized license plates are available at https://trust.dot.state.wi.us/ppup/searchPlate.do. Bad news. Both BIGFAN and XCUZME are not available. Good news. LUVAR12 (Aaron Rodgers #12), GO-CHZ, CHZ-EATR, and FISHFRY are available.

A vehicle was recently spotted in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. Its plates read, THX VETS. Seven letters say it all. As Veterans Day nears, THX VETS is particularly meaningful. Veterans Day is a federal holiday observed on November 11th each year to honor military vets. It coincides with other holidays around the globe marking the end of major fighting in World War One. THX VETS.

“Don’t forget: hire a vet” was a public service announcement from 1965 to 1980. The message is now Hire Heroes. Employment assistance is the Number One requested service from military members transitioning to civilian life. Hire Heroes USA is an example of a nonprofit veteran employment service organization. It provides assistance to thousands of veterans and spouses each year. Wisconsin counties have a fully-staffed Veteran Service Office (VSO) which can help determine if a veteran or a veteran’s family may qualify for local, state, and federal benefits. VSO staff may be a friendly voice or face veterans are looking for. It could start with coffee and a conversation.

Employers large and small continue to look for hard-working associates to hire. Veterans served our country. They can serve business and industry, too. Veterans make great employees. Hire Heroes.

Look for the vehicle with special plates in the St. Croix Valley. Today, tomorrow, and especially on November 11th, THX VETS, 3X.

St. Croix EDC Recognizes Hudson Grocery Cooperative During National Co-op Month

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St. Croix EDC Recognizes Hudson Grocery Cooperative During National Co-op Month

Photo: Board members from the Hudson Grocery Cooperative posed with representatives of St. Croix EDC as part of the EDC’s recognition of National Co-op Month on Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Representatives from St. Croix Economic Development Corporation (EDC) honored the Hudson Grocery Cooperative (Hudson, Wisc.) as part of National Co-op Month on Tuesday, October 11, 2022.

About Hudson Grocery Cooperative
The idea for Hudson Grocery Cooperative began on the playground of Willow River Elementary School. Neighbors shared stories about our community and the discussion turned toward local grocery stores. A void left in downtown Hudson when a grocery closed. Local grocery co-ops had been an integral part of life in other communities and there was strong interest in launching a grocery co-op in Hudson. This became the seed for a survey to gauge community interest in a cooperative. Within two weeks of publishing the survey, over 200 positive responses were returned. Articles of Incorporation officially launched Hudson Grocery Cooperative in 2012.

Learn more at https://hudsongrocery.coop/

About National Co-op Month
Celebrated during the month of October, National Co-op Month is an annual opportunity to raise awareness of a trusted, proven business model. The 2022 theme is “Co-ops Build Economic Power” and represents an opportunity to lift up the cooperative business model as the best way to build an economy that empowers everyone.

About St. Croix EDC
St. Croix EDC is an IRS business league organization that operates as the independent economic development of St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Reflective activities include marketing and communications, business retention, expansion, recruitment, new business start-ups, workforce readiness and development, and small business advocacy. Learn more at www.stcroixedc.com.

For more information, contact William Rubin, EDC executive director, 715.690.2110.

Homecoming 2022: Wake up the Echoes


Homecoming 2022: Wake up the Echoes


Graduating classes come and go.

Marching bands come and go.

Cheer squads come and go.

Coaches, team managers, and cable television announcers all come and go.

But there’s only one homecoming. And across the U.S., an important date on the calendar is near, Homecoming 2022. Coronations, parades, bonfires – oops, that’s a specter from a bygone era, and pep rallies all lead up to the game – perhaps better phrased as Thee Game. Win it and teammates rejoice for decades. Lose it, and those same teammates are haunted beyond decades.

What about the economic impact of homecoming? A 2011 news clip from Albany, Georgia proclaimed, “City officials say Albany businesses should receive an economic impact between four to five million dollars from Homecoming.” The owner of a restaurant said homecoming was biggest week of the year by far. “There’s nothing like the Albany State Homecoming weekend,” the owner boasted. Is it possible for college fans to spend a little over $380 traveling to their alma mater as a 2021 study suggested? Ouch. And Yes. Gotta eat. Gotta sleep. Gotta get swag. Gotta celebrate. Or commiserate. Remember, consumer spending is responsible for 70 percent of the country’s economic activity. This includes spending on football and homecoming.

Bringing it down to a local level, bars and grills will be full before and after games. Concession stands will be busy, too. Floats for parades don’t decorate themselves. And topping the tank to and from big games is a must, even as gas settles in at $3.70+ a gallon. Back in the day, new dresses and coats were purchased for homecoming. Fast forward to 2022 and more than one family elder may ask, “You paid how much for those jeans and they came with all those holes?”

Families in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley find ways to come through. They’ll do it again for homecoming this fall. Boosters play a big role behind the scenes. An undersized 220 pound defensive lineman needs pasta on the eve of big games, followed by brownies and milk for desert. Boosters make it happen. Eight and nine-year old kids playing organized football for the first time soon become high school juniors and seniors. Unpaid boosters played big roles in getting them there.

An unnamed university in South Bend, Indiana has high expectations for academic achievement and even higher expectations for success on the football field. Their fight song asks followers to wake up the echoes, cheering her name! This is a call for all loyalists, living or not, to pull for a victory. How can the opposing team stand up to a legion like this?

And now on to the big game, Homecoming 2022. Good luck players, coaches, drum majors, cheerleaders, and fans. Blackhawks, Hilltoppers, Panthers, Raiders, Spartans, and Tigers will call upon their legions. Wake up the echoes!

Total Reward Strategies Zoom recording

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Total Reward Strategies

On Wednesday, June 8, 2022, Linda Skoglund, Managing Partner and Alicia Schwartz, Benefits Consultant at JA Counter, an Alera Group Company held a conversation on total rewards strategies.

You can watch the recording here until July 8, 2022. You can download the presentation slides here and the 2022 Benchmarking Overview here.

In this one hour conversation, Linda & Alicia discussed trends regarding benefits, compensation and company culture and how enlightened employers are differentiating themselves from their competitors.

2022-23 Directors and Officers Elected at Annual Meeting

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2022-23 Directors and Officers Elected at Annual Meeting

St. Croix Economic Development Corporation (EDC) held its Annual Meeting at Northwood Technical College in New Richmond, Wisconsin on Tuesday, May 10th.  A slate of officers for 2022-2023 and two new board members were elected, along with the re-election of five directors. Three county supervisors also joined the board for the first time in accordance with EDC bylaws.

Aaron Sundeen, Director of Project Development at Derrick Building Solutions, (New Richmond, WI area) was elected Board President. He has served on the board since 2019 and replaces Angela Popenhagen who completed her term as President. She will continue to serve on the board and the executive committee as Past President. 

Krista Paulus, Relationship Manager, Commercial Banking, Security Financial Bank (River Falls, WI branch), was elected First Vice President.

Susan Yohnk Lockwood, Vice President, Institutional Effectiveness and New Richmond Campus Administrator, Northwood Technical College (New Richmond, WI), was elected Second Vice President. 

Marina Onken was elected Corporate Secretary-Treasurer. She retired as Dean of the College of Business and Economics (CBE) at UW-River Falls in late 2021 and is now Professor Emeritus of Strategy and Innovation at CBE.

Aaron Sundeen, Steve Gossel, Susan Yohnk Lockwood, Marina Onken, and Kim Rock were re-elected to the board. Each will serve a final three-year term, ending in May 2025.

Tom Aaby and Tom Loonan were elected to three-year terms on the board. Aaby is Vice President of Business Development with OEM Fabricators (Woodville, WI) and Loonan is an attorney with Eckberg Lammers. He practices civil municipal law and business law. Eckberg Lammers has offices in Hudson, Wisconsin and Stillwater, Minnesota.

Carah Koch, Paul Berning, and Mark Carlson from the county board of supervisors were appointed to the EDC board earlier in the month. 

The board of directors accepted the 2021 financial review from Jason Zahradka, CPA of Guinn, Vinopal & Zahradka, LLP. 

The board honored Popenhagen, Jones, and Kelly at the conclusion of the Annual Meeting.

May 2021 Unemployment

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St. Croix County’s May Unemployment Rate is 3.3%

On June 23rd, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced the preliminary May 2021 unemployment rates for Wisconsin’s 72 counties and the 34 cities with populations greater than 25,000 residents. St. Croix County’s May rate was estimated at 3.3%, which is lower than the final rate of 3.9% for April and the final rate of 4.5% for March. One year ago, the county’s unemployment rate was estimated at 12.7%.

DWD said preliminary unemployment rates from April to May declined in all 72 counties and also declined in all 72 counties year-over-year. The rates ranged from 2.6% in Lafayette to 8.4% in Menominee.

Preliminary unemployment rates declined in all of Wisconsin’s 34 largest municipalities from April to May and declined or stayed the same in all of the largest municipalities, year-over-year. Rates ranged from 2.8% in Muskego to 7.0% in Milwaukee.

The five counties with the lowest unemployment rates in May include Lafayette (2.6%), Kewaunee (2.7%), Pepin (2.8%), Taylor (also at 2.8%), and Calumet (2.9%). Menominee County had the highest rate in May at 8.4%, followed by Forest (7.2%), Iron (6.3%), Adams (6.1%), and Milwaukee (5.8%).

St. Croix, Pierce, Polk, and Dunn counties comprise Wisconsin’s Greater St. Croix Valley. In addition to St. Croix’s rate of 3.3%, May’s preliminary rate in Pierce was also 3.3%, followed by Dunn is at 3.6%, while Polk came in at 3.8%.

St. Croix and Pierce counties are included in the 15-county Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI metro area. The May 2021 unemployment rate for the Twin Cities was estimated at 3.8%, which is lower than the final rate of 4.1% for April and March’s final rate of 4.3%. The unemployment rate in the Twin Cities was 10.1% in May 2020.

The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate for Wisconsin in May was estimated at 3.9%, which is the same as April’s final rate, but higher than higher than the final rate of 3.8% for March. One year ago, the state’s seasonally adjusted rate was 10.4%.

The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate in Minnesota in May was estimated at 4.0%, which is lower than April’s final rate of 4.1% and March’s final rate of 4.2%. Minnesota’s seasonally-adjusted rate one year ago was 11.3%.

The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate in the U.S. for May was estimated at 5.8%, which is lower than April’s final rate of 6.1% and March’s final rate of 6.0%. One year ago, the U.S. rate (seasonally adjusted) was estimated at 13.3%.

Wisconsin’s preliminary (seasonally adjusted) labor force participation rate for May was estimated at 66.1%, which is higher than April’s final rate of 65.9% and March’s final rate of 65.7%. One year ago, Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate was 65.6%. The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) labor force participation rate for the U.S. in May was estimated at 61.6%, which is lower than April’s final rate of 61.7% but higher than March’s final rate of 61.5%. One year ago, the labor force participation rate in the U.S. was 60.8%.

May’s estimates are preliminary and are subject to revision within the next few weeks.

Directors and Officers Elected at 2021 EDC Annual Meeting

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Directors and Officers Elected at 2021 Annual Meeting

St. Croix Economic Development Corporation (EDC) held its Annual Meeting remotely on Tuesday, May 11th.  A slate of officers for 2021-2022 and one new board member were elected, along with the re-election of three directors. 

Angela Popenhagen, the principal of Stevens Engineers (greater Hudson, WI), was elected Board President. She has served on the board since 2017 and replaces Rob Kreibich who completed his term as President. Kreibich will continue to serve on the board and the executive committee as Past President.

Aaron Sundeen, Director of Project Development at Derrick Building Solutions, (New Richmond, WI area), was elected First Vice President. 

Krista Paulus, Relationship Manager, Commercial Banking, Security Financial Bank (River Falls, WI branch, was elected Second Vice President.

Cameron Kelly, was re-elected Corporate Secretary-Treasurer. He is an attorney with Lommen Abdo, P.A. (Hudson office).

April Nelson, Tom Borowski, and Rob Kreibich were re-elected to the board. Nelson is a Vice President and Loan Officer with WBD; Borowski is President of Hudson Hospital & Clinic; and Kreibich is the Executive Director of the New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau.

Scott Morrissette of River Falls was elected to a three-year term on the board. He is a Vice President, Business Banking, with Bremer Bank and serves on the River Falls City Council.

The board of directors accepted the 2020 financial review from Guinn, Vinopal & Zahradka, LLP.

At the conclusion of the Annual Meeting, a plaque was presented to Rob Kreibich for his service as President and departing director Rob O’Keefe received a memento for completing his final term on the board.

About St. Croix EDC: Organized in 1993, St. Croix EDC is the independent economic development of St. Croix County. Reflective activities include marketing and communications, business retention, business expansion, business recruitment, new business start-ups, workforce development, and small business and legislative advocacy.

St. Croix EDC Names Top Businesses/Individual for 2020

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St. Croix EDC Names Top
Businesses/Individual for 2020

Rob Kreibich, president of St. Croix Economic Development Corporation (EDC), announced the EDC’s selection of National Tactical Security (River Falls), Laptop Chips (Roberts-Baldwin), and Nolato Contour (Baldwin) as recipients of the 2020 Business of the Year awards in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Patrick Thompson is the recipient of the EDC Directors Award, an occasional award presented to an individual or organization championing economic development through innovation actions, making St. Croix County an exceptional place for business, industry, and residents.

The companies will be honored during an online celebration scheduled for Thursday, February 25, 2021, starting at 5:00 o’clock p.m.

“These businesses represent the very best entrepreneurial spirit that is alive and well in St. Croix County,” said EDC President Rob Kreibich.

About the 2020 Honorees

Launched in May 2020, National Tactical Security (NTS) is the 2020 Emerging Business of the Year (based in St. Croix County and in business for five or fewer years).  It was founded by business partners Dave Skinner and Troy Szotkowski, who also own and operate Applied Countermeasures Group, founded in 2015. NTS provided executive protection for clients who quickly and unexpectedly found themselves in harm’s way last summer as a result of unrest locally and around the globe. In just eight months NTS obtained security licensing in eight states where qualified security agents were hired. NTS provided security and consulting services for election campaigns and provide 24/7 services as needed.

Laptop Chips is the 2020 Small Business of the Year (29 or fewer employees). The company is a hardware recycler and parts supplier serving Minnesota and Wisconsin since 2010. Their clients span a broad range from Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and educational institutions, to small businesses, and even end users.  Services include computer recycling, asset disposition, data destruction in compliance with DoD 5220,22-M standards, reverse logistics, liquidating, and downsizing or facility closure. Laptop Chips was founded by Erik Salomonsen and operates facilities in the Villages of Roberts and Baldwin.

Nolato Contour is the 2020 Business of the Year (30 or more employees). Nolato Contour is a precision plastic and silicone injection molding company that produces and supplies plastic components and finished medical devices to major medical and pharma companies in the United States. The company was launched in 2010 following Sweden-based Nolato Group’s acquisition of Contour Plastics in Baldwin, Wisconsin. The acquisition enabled Nolato to secure a North American scientific manufacturing foothold with medical technology companies. In September 2019 Nolato announced a major expansion totaling $18+ million in Baldwin, which resulted in the creation of new jobs and a corporate tax credit award from the state. Russ Steele leads Nolato Contour as its president and managing director.

Patrick Thompson is the recipient of the EDC Directors Award. He came to St. Croix County as its first county administrator in 2011 and served in that capacity until August 2020 when he accepted a similar position in Winnebago County, Illinois. Thompson led several initiatives in St. Croix and the EDC appreciated his strong support and advocacy for economic development.

Event Details

This is the 27th business awards program conducted by St. Croix EDC. The online event is open to the public but reservations are required. Additional details on connecting to the event will follow.

About St. Croix EDC

The EDC was established in 1994 as a public-private business league that operates as the independent economic development arm of St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Reflective activities include marketing and communication, business retention, business expansion, business recruitment, new business incorporations, workforce development, and advocacy on behalf of business and industry. Initiatives taken by St. Croix EDC help improve the business climate of St. Croix County, allowing businesses, large and small, to grow and prosper.

For more information, contact William Rubin or Nita Dusek at (715) 381-4383.

Craft Brewery Day 2020

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EDC Proclaims September 24 as Craft Brewery Day in St. Croix County

At its September meeting, the St. Croix Economic Development Corporation (EDC) board of directors unanimously proclaimed Thursday, September 24, 2020 as Craft Brewery Day in St. Croix County, Wisconsin.

The EDC will recognize six micro-breweries in the county with proclamations signed by the board president and executive director. The breweries are Rush River Brewery (River Falls), Pitchfork Brewery (Town of Hudson), Oliphant Brewery (Somerset), Bobtown Brewhouse & Grill (Roberts), and Hop & Barrel (Hudson). The proclamations will be mailed to the breweries. A special, in-person delivery to one of the breweries has not been ruled out.

The proclamation points out craft breweries provide significant opportunities for community and economic development. In many cases, breweries renovate and occupy underutilized or vacant commercial space, sometimes providing additional sparks for other businesses to invest in nearby properties. Breweries are tourist destinations and become a community gathering spot or a place to enjoy local music and food.

Statewide, craft breweries make a big impact. They contribute around $9 billion to Wisconsin’s economy each year, along with 62,000+ jobs and $2.5 billion in wages and benefits.

Like many businesses, breweries have felt the impact of the economic downturn. Owners used creativity and offered curb pick-up service for cans and growlers to go. Brewers and owners continue to help one another by answering questions and offering assistance.

The EDC asks residents to consider a pick-up order or in-person stop at taprooms on September 24th, recognizing the importance of social distancing and commonsense health practices.

Whether enjoying a lager, pilsner, pale ale, IPA or stout, please do so responsibly.

For questions or comments, please call St. Croix EDC at 715.381.4383.

2020 Census – Size Matters


2020 Census – Size Matters


With little fanfare, the 2020 census got underway on January 21st in a tiny community along the Bering Sea called Toksook Bay, Alaska. It is so remote that the census bureau director from Washington, D.C. was late to his own ceremonial kick-off event. Lizzie Chimiugak Nenguryarr, a 90-year old elder in Toksook Bay, was the first person counted, leading up to the estimated 334 million people across America participating in the census.

The decennial census is coming to a town, village, city, urban, or rural area near you, too. Mark a calendar – April 1st is National Census Day. No word on school and government closings, however.

The data collected from the census helps the federal government determine financial resources distributed to communities for roads, highways, schools, and hospitals. Can you say $675 billion in federal dollars annually? Developers can use the census information to make investment decisions. Local governments will use the data for planning and public safety. An average citizen will use it for quality of life initiatives or research leading to new or amended ordinances.

The origin of a national census is found in the U.S. Constitution. Our nation’s founders devised a creative plan to empower people over their new government (Wait. What?). The plan was to count every person in the U.S. and use the information to determine representation in the fledgling Congress. The goal was first accomplished in 1790 and has continued every 10 years.

Today, there are 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. From the 2020 census, some states will gain representation and others will lose. Take California for example (it’s yours, take it). Even with its large population base, a congressional seat may be lost in California. Minnesota is in jeopardy of losing a seat, too. West Virginia may lose two seats and Texas could gain two. As many as seventeen state dominos could fall – some tipping forward; some falling behind.

The Census Bureau has a December 31st deadline to deliver findings to the sitting president. This marks the beginning of congressional reapportionment, which goes into effect for the 2022 mid-term elections. The data used for state and local redistricting will be available on March 31, 2021.

An undercount of people is always a reality. The Census Bureau will spend $500 million on a public education and outreach campaign with more than 1,000 ads to reach 99 percent of U.S. households. A tagline, “Shape your Future. Start here” was created to bolster awareness and participation. Videos in 59 non-English languages are available to explain how to fill out the forms. Languages range from Thai to Tamil and from Italian to Hindi. In short, the Census Bureau wants everyone counted.

Back to Toksook Bay and Lizzie the elder. The census from ten years ago estimated Toksook Bay’s population at 590 people. By 2017 the estimate was 661. Toksook Bay is not only holding its own, it is growing. To encourage participation from Alaska’s indigenous groups, the 2020 questionnaires were translated into the Yup’ik language. Elder Lizzie appreciated that. The 2030 census is just around the corner for Lizzie.

Here’s to being counted in the weeks ahead. Shape your Future. Start here.

American Pie


American Pie


Whether it’s East L.A. or East Overshoe, there may be occasional coffee shop chatter that your community is on the brink. First, don’t believe it. And second, find inspiration in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In early 2011, Newsweek magazine published a list of America’s dying cities. Grand Rapids, sometimes referred to as Bland Rapids, made the unenviable list. Seven years later, Rand McNally and even satellite intel suggest Grand Rapids is alive, well, and thriving.

Newsweek’s dire prediction for Grand Rapids led to outcry among its residents and civic leaders, starting at the top with the mayor’s office. He challenged his constituents to prove Newsweek wrong. Along came a barely 20-year old community college student named Rob Bliss. Through corporate sponsorships and fundraising, Bliss produced a ten-minute lip dub video set to Don McLean’s classic ballad, American Pie. For McLean, the untimely deaths of young rock and rollers Buddy Holly, Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens in 1959 was the day ‘the music’ died. Good enough for McLean; good enough for Bliss.

By mid-2011 the Grand Rapids lip dub was released and immediately became a viral sensation on YouTube. Video scenes wove through downtown Grand Rapids and Bliss used 5,000 participants, including firefighters, police officers, city officials, hankie-waving co-eds, pillow fighters, a wedding party, gymnasts, nerf gun battlers, kayakers in the river, news vans, a marching band, fireworks and sparklers, and a local football team. Each took a turn lip-dubbing the lines of American Pie. The video ends with an aerial scene from a helicopter. The hillside of an urban park reads, ‘Experience Grand Rapids’ which was the subtle message all along. The late Roger Ebert had a long career as a film critic. He called the lip dub “The Greatest Music Video Ever Made.” It has 5.7+ million views.

Grand Rapids enjoyed its moment in the media spotlight as feel good stories were published or aired. By 2013, it made several new lists – ‘Most Livable’ and ‘Happiest City’. The story of Grand Rapids, Michigan is still being written. Let’s hope your hometown can say the same.

As a post script, watch the video here. If compelled, sing along or at the very least, lip dub it. As for the video’s creator, Rob Bliss grew up and runs Rob Bliss Creative in New York City, specializing in viral messaging.