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A new vision for Milton

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Stacy Vogel
May 22, 2008
— A UW-Whitewater group has a vision for the future of Milton:

Tourists flock to the city to learn about its history and visit its unique shops. They start with a self-guided tour of Milton College, which is resurrected as a learning institute as a satellite site for Blackhawk Technical College.


A community center and businesses such as accounting firms, law offices and health clinics anchor the campus.


From there, visitors spread out to niche shops, small entertainment venues and one-of-a-kind eateries. They stay overnight in a hotel or motel in the city.


The vision still is a dream, but UW-Whitewater’s Center for Innovation and Business Development wants to help Milton make it reality.


Bud Gayhart, director of the center’s Small Business Development Center, presented the results of a community innovation study to the Milton Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Tourism on Wednesday.


The center has been working for about a year on the project, which started with a survey to business owners, tourists, civic leaders and 3,000 area residents. About 25 percent of residents responded, Gayhart said.


The center took the survey results and crafted a list of recommendations to make Milton a tourist destination.


The city has to create its own “brand,” Gayhart said.


“When people mention the Dells, you know what it’s about,” he said. “When people mention Cedarburg, you know what it’s about. There’s no reason Milton can’t be the same way.”


Milton, he said, should be about history. The city has one of the oldest college campuses in the state, though the college closed in 1982, and it has a bona fide link to the Underground Railroad through the Milton House.


The city could market itself with a catchy slogan and logo, Gayhart said.


But first, it should anchor its commercial area in Milton College, the midpoint between its two downtown areas.


Gayhart already has spoken with Blackhawk Technical College officials, who expressed enthusiasm about opening a satellite site in Milton, he said. With an educational institute and some businesses, the college could become the “hub,” leading visitors to other areas of town.


Enacting the plan would take collaboration between businesses, government and residents, Gayhart said. He suggested creating a “revitalization committee” with five to seven members representing all three groups. The committee could create a strategic plan to put the center’s suggestions into action.


The Milton Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Tourism already has begun enacting some of the suggestions, Executive Director Christina Slaback said. It is improving its Web site and promoting niche businesses such as Leuca Guild and the soon-to-be-opened Northleaf Winery.


It will discuss other suggestions at future board meetings, she said.


Meanwhile, UW-Whitewater isn’t going anywhere, Gayhart said.


“Our plan is to stay engaged throughout the process,” he said.


MILTON PLAN

Suggestions from UW-Whitewater’s Center for Innovation and Business Development for making Milton a destination included:


-- Focusing on business retention before recruitment.


-- Using students and resources from Blackhawk Technical College, UW-Rock County and UW-Whitewater for office work, Web site production and marketing.


-- Creating a public-private partnership.


-- Creating an electronic membership directory and a “business of the month” on the Milton Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Tourism’s Web site.


-- Using holiday themes to promote the city.



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