|Municipality||Village of Black Creek|
|Population and Growth|
|WI Workforce Development Region||5|
|Young Adult Gaining Measure||17% (WI median is -22%)|
|Young Adult Maintaining Measure||32% (WI median is 24%)|
|Racial stats, 2010 Census||
93.9% White (non-Hispanic)
2.1% White (Hispanic)
1.4% American Indian or Alaska Native
1.6% Identified 2 or more
|Mean Income||$56,972 (2015)|
|Median Income||$52,708 (2015)|
|Year of Latest Comprehensive Development Plan||2016|
|Year and Amount of Last Referendum Passed||$1.86 million, 2017|
|Notes||Black Creek is served by the Seymour Community School District|
|Elementary||Black Creek Elementary/Middle School||K-8||Public|
|Middle||Black Creek Elementary/Middle School||K-8||Public|
|High||Seymour Community High School||9-12||Public|
Conducting the Case Study in Black Creek
In Amanda Hoffman's first visit to Black Creek, some core group members suggested that it would be difficult to find folks that would agree to participate in an hour-long interview. Amanda had just completed dozens of interviews in three other municipalities, and was confident that she would have little trouble. Yet interviews and recommendations were hard to come by. We completed eleven interviews, and determined that this data represented diverse enough experiences, while repeatedly pointing to shared themes.
In future case studies, Amanda began to spend more time researching local businesses and groups to generate a larger list of potential interviewees, early in the process. If we employed this approach in Black Creek, we could have scheduled interviews more quickly. We also could have brainstormed more contact recommendations with the core group, initially.
We were grateful for the time and care that the core group members took in connecting Amanda with community members. They worked hard to present this study to individuals, groups, and potential partners. Here is how we proceeded.
- Connect to University of Wisconsin-Extension:
In late 2016, we reached out to UW-Extension Outagamie County, requesting recommendations for community leaders who would be interested in our project. Department Head and Family Living Educator Karen Dickrell responded promptly with interest.
- Connect to Somerset Leaders to Build "Core Group":
Ms. Dickrell suggested local leaders to contact for the core group that had important civic and business roles in the community.
- Develop Interview Guide:
Amanda invited each of these folks to meet in Black Creek, and provide feedback on how to shape this study. At the meeting, we discussed the relevance of this project to Black Creek, and what questions to ask the interviewees. We went through the question bank and the group decided together which questions to include. After the meeting, Amanda drafted the interview guide, and emailed the group for them to approve the order of questions.
- Contact Potential Interviewees:
Core group members emailed Amanda contact recommendations, and directed potential Black Creek interviewees to contact Amanda. One core group member invited Amanda to present this study to the parents at a Community Family Resource Center playgroup. Other core group members discussed the project with Black Creek's business association. Amanda connected with a local business, and with a local school leader.
- Conduct Interviews:
Amanda conducted eleven interviews between the end of February and the end of April.
- Growing the Research Team:
In the beginning of May, Allyson Watson from UW-Extension in Outagamie and Winnebago Counties joined the team, and connected to the school, core group, and village, to recruit interviewees, though this did not result in any further interviews.
- Present and Revise Report:
We analyzed and summarized the results of the interview, presented them to the core group, and revised the report based on their recommendations.
Black Creek Interview Guide
- How old are you?
- How long have you lived here?
- Do you rent or own your home?
- Do members of your extended family live in this community or in a nearby community?
What's in Black Creek
- What do young adults do for recreation/entertainment around here?
- What do you think of shopping opportunities around here?
- How do you feel about your food options around here?
- What kinds of things do you leave the community for?
- Are gardens important here?
- What are schools and childcare like around here?
Growth in Black Creek
- How do you feel about population growth in your community?
Follow-up: What trends have you seen in the number of young adults where you live?
- What would you say to someone who is thinking of moving here?
- Why do people move here?
- Why do people stay here?
- What people would not feel comfortable here?
Community in Black Creek
- What role do you think young adults should play where you live?
- How would you want your town to grow?
- How would you want it to stay the same?
- What would influence you to stay or leave?
- Is your life here different than you thought it would be? Is it better? Worse?
- How many people do you know in your town?
Follow-up: How much do you know your neighbors?
- What does community mean to you? What does community look like here?
- What do you need from your community? In terms of individuals? Groups?
Results for Black Creek
While the identities of interview participants remain confidential, a few key characteristics may prove useful to readers in their analysis of these findings.
- The eleven interviewees were all between the ages of 24-45. Seven of the participants were born between 1965-1984, part of the Generation X cohort. The other four participants were born between 1985-2000, representing the Millennial cohort.
- Ten of the interview participants were female, and one participant was male.
- All eleven participants indicated that they were homeowners.
- Nine of the participants indicated that they lived in Black Creek (Village or Township was not specifically indicated). One participant lived in Seymour and one described themselves as living "five miles North of Black Creek".
Proximity to Other Places:
Nine participants described Black Creek as close to Appleton and the Fox Cities metro area, while seven participants described Black Creek as close to Green Bay. Nine participants emphasized the importance of proximity of other nearby communities such as Seymour, Shawano, the Appleton-Fox Cities metro area, and Green Bay to Black Creek residents because they offer things not as available in Black Creek:
- Three people mentioned employment opportunities
- Seven people mentioned retail shopping
- Seven people mentioned dining
- Seven people mentioned recreation
- Four people mentioned entertainment
- Two people mentioned worship communities
Considering the impact of these other communities is important for understanding life in Black Creek. Interviewees said things like:
- "Most people work in Appleton or Green Bay."
- "I tend to include Seymour. We're one."
- "Within fifteen minutes you're back in Appleton. They have groceries with pretty good selection of what they need. Food options are pretty good."
Seven participants perceived that locally-owned establishments cannot always offer the same price competitiveness of larger chains. In addition, six participants shared that they felt the drive time to amenities was manageable while three participants felt the drive time was too much. Two participants expressed a desire to have more amenities available locally within walking distance, and one participant worried that the amount of driving required to live in Black Creek might deter potential residents.
But residents didn't feel that they needed to leave Black Creek for everything they needed. Seven participants emphasized that Black Creek has conveniences readily available, reducing the need to leave the community for everything. Four participants shared that they find additional conveniences available in nearby Seymour. Interviewees said things like:
- "Some people stay in Black Creek because it has everything they need and that's their comfort zone. If you don't want to leave you don't have to. But there's so much to do around the area, there's so many different cultures. It's a short drive. We like to go and explore stuff."
- "Black Creek is a small town but has basic things."
Among the local conveniences mentioned, three participants cited the convenience of having a Shopko Hometown store (small format department store and pharmacy) in Seymour. Four people noted the seasonal farmers' market in Black Creek as a convenient and appreciated source for fresh produce.
Two participants shared that they make a conscious effort to patronize local businesses in Black Creek. Two participants offered that they believe local businesses in Black Creek support the community, and five participants emphasized that the presence of local businesses is important to them. Interview participants said things like:
- "I make a point of shopping at [local establishments]."
- "It's convenient to have a little grocery store, and farmers' market...I'll send my kids to the store."
- "If you have to get something quick, there's a store here, but it's... expensive"
People also seemed to value the quality of life that Black Creek offers more than proximity to work, shopping, dining or specific recreational opportunities.
- "It's ideal for being out of town, on Highway 47. People are generally very nice."
- "It's a 20-minute scenic route. You're not fighting traffic. You can unplug and decompress. Even to Green Bay is a nice drive."
- "It pulls you out of the hustle of Appleton and Green Bay...You can live in the country and be near the city. That was a big attraction for me...It's a close drive for resources."
- "I like to be in the country, and close to Green Bay and Appleton."
- "We did it [moved here] because we wanted the country... you get more land for your money."
In addition, four participants cited that a lack of traffic made living in Black Creek enjoyable, though three participants mentioned that traffic does pick up in the summer as State Highway 47 is a corridor to vacation spots in the north woods.
All eleven participants indicated that they were homeowners. Six of them said that they have recently sensed growth in Black Creek in the housing market, and five participants have noticed a shift in the demographics of the community toward more younger people and families. And while residents appreciated Black Creek being a reasonable driving distance from large places, there was also a recurring theme of Black Creek being "far away enough" from more urbanized areas. This was key to the identity of Black Creek, a topic which we will touch on further in a later section. In thinking about the distance of Black Creek from nearby urban areas, four people mentioned that housing is comparatively affordable, three noted that the cost of living is affordable, two said that taxes are affordable, and two said that large lots are more readily available.
- "We liked the amount of space that lot had"
- The house they have here is less expensive than it would be near Appleton - "you get more land for your money"
- "Everything [houses] was hideous in Seymour. They look good in pictures but bad in person"
- "I'd prefer Greenville or De Pere, but it made sense because we found a house here. There was a lot of turnover in the housing market in my neighborhood – I don't see that as much anymore. It was a perfect storm for us, and for the people next door. It wasn't my first choice."
Attitudes About Growth
Housing became one of the indicators that people used to discuss the community's identity and support for growth. People had a variety of perceptions of housing growth and availability. One participant held the perception that the housing inventory is not as robust as desired by residents. The Village does have land availability within its boundaries, but this person believed that developer incentives are often a requirement to successfully add new subdivisions. Others said things like:
- "There's not a lot of housing or neighborhood choices. The Village is full. There's not much to develop."
- "I don't want it to get too big. I don't want it to become a suburb of something...It won't become a suburb in 10 years, but in 40 years, it may change. Appleton is creeping in. There are lots of commuters here already."
- "Houses are not on the market for long... It's a positive change. More people means more amenities."
The risk of Black Creek growing too much and becoming a suburb was an important sticking point for some participants. Two interview participants expressly indicated a desire that Black Creek not become a Fox Cities suburb, but retain its own distinct identity. One person expressed strongly a desire to curb further residential subdivision development. But overall sentiments were mixed on whether or not population growth in the community was a good thing. Three of the participants shared that they felt it was a good change, and two others were not proponents of population growth. Four participants supported adaptive re-use of existing homes and commercial buildings for residents and commercial tenants. And four participants explicitly stated that Black Creek is "not the city" in answering both questions about future growth of the community and the types of residents who would not feel welcomed.
We asked participants what young adults do for recreation in general and what they do personally for recreation. There was a notable divide in responses and how participants viewed themselves compared to the general population of young adults. From the interviewer's notes:
- I introduced the question "What do people do for fun?", but before I finished it she started laughing. I told her everyone laughs at this question, and she said "I understand why everyone laughs". But as far as I know, most people go to Appleton and Green Bay so it's a central, small, hub community with bigger communities outside.
Others said things like:
- "Main Street, it's sad, there's so much potential."
- "Much traffic in the summer, and there are some cute shops. Cars would stop but [most would] drive through."
- "There are good spaces, and great restaurants, but they've never lasted."
- "[A well-frequented community] bar just got shut down...We're not sure what to do. We're trying to figure out where we want to go. They had really good food. We would go more than once a week."
Despite these sentiments and a belief that young adults leave the community for recreation, individuals shared wide ranging recreational activities that they partake in within Black Creek. These include connecting with community in the outdoors, at home, and at family-friendly events. One interview participant was excited to move out of the big city for opportunities like having a fire pit in her backyard, and commented that regulations are less restrictive in Black Creek. Others made statements like:
- "We participate in Family Daze parade, and community events in the library."
- "The park a minute from us has a lake with a little beach that we can go to for free in the summer. It's quite quaint."
- Four participants cited that they take advantage of family and community events held in Black Creek.
- Three participants cited that they engage in recreation at home, such as entertaining friends and family or having a bonfire.
- Five participants cited that local taverns play an important role as social gathering spaces in the community.
- Four participants cited that Black Creek offers access to hunting, fishing and shooting sports.
- Eight participants cited outdoor recreation as something they take advantage of in Black Creek.
- Six participants mentioned nearby walking or biking trails in the Black Creek area that they frequent.
Sense of Community
When asked to define community and share what their sense of community was in Black creek, several themes emerged from participants:
- Seven people described Black Creek as safe
- Seven people described the community as cohesive with neighbors and community members
- Six people described it as family-friendly
- Six people described Black Creek as a small town
- Four people described the community as rural or country
- Four people mentioned looking out for and supporting one another
- Three people emphasized uniting around a common theme of community betterment
- Two people mentioned they felt a sense of family
Sentiments were mixed on whether the size of the community hindered privacy. One participant shared that they appreciated the privacy available by living in the country. Two participants felt privacy and anonymity were harder to come by in a smaller community. Two participants believed that "small town drama" and gossip were unavoidable, but tolerable as a trade-off for the high quality of life that they experienced in Black Creek. Interviewees said things like:
- "It's too hard to get to know people in a big city."
- "It's a lot different. I grew up in the city. Growing up in the city is where you lock your doors behind you. I still do it, I'm over-vigilant about it, my husband would say. But there's not that fear of something bad happening, or someone breaking into your house."
Many people had strong local roots in Black Creek already. People move to Black Creek, or return to Black Creek, for starting a family, and connecting to a safe, supported, family-like community. Six participants indicated that they were born or grew up in Outagamie County, and two of those were born or grew up in Black Creek proper. Four participants shared that their spouse or significant other had grown up in Outagamie County, one of whom was from Black Creek proper. Three participants indicated that they had returned to Black Creek after attending college. Just one participant had no family ties to Outagamie County or Black Creek. Seven participants indicated that they had at least one extended family member living in Outagamie County, and four of them had extended family living in Black Creek proper.
- "They grow up here, go to college, and come back to raise kids."
- "It's home, it's comfortable, it's family."
- "It takes a community to raise a child."
- "The businesses in town do a great job of supporting community and people that live in it. I'd like to see them continue that support."
- "You stay when you feel you've become a part of it. It's hard to leave."
- "I think people stay because once they settle it's easier to stay than to leave."
- "People here are non-judgmental but informative"
When asked what role young adults do or should play in Black Creek, there was strong encouragement for them to get involved in supporting the local community, but also recognition that getting involved was not easy.
- "If you want to see that sense of community, get involved to keep it that way. Otherwise it'll just be like any other place."
- "if there are businesses that you utilize, you should support them. You usually are going to pay more for them."
- "The younger generation brings in ideas...open minds...they would take more risk in how to revive the town."
- "The people who help, they drag them down, because there's not that many people willing to give them that extra time. They burn people out and then they have nobody."
Schools and Childcare
The school was cited by seven of the eleven interview participants as a reason for moving to or remaining in Black Creek. The school is seen as a personable and nurturing institution, and one that also connects families.
- "People probably move here to find housing in the Seymour School District."
- "People are supportive of referendums. The school asks for money when they need it, and use it well and wisely."
- "[The school] is one reason I agreed to move here. Super-nice, small sizes, great teachers."
Four participants noted that they had attended Black Creek schools in their childhood, and one indicated that they attended Seymour High School (the shared high school for Seymour and Black Creek within the Seymour School District). Five participants remarked about the small school size being a positive factor. Six participants shared that they had close relationships with their teachers in the Seymour School District or have those close relationships with their children's teachers. Participants praise the school's size, and the familiarity between teachers and students that characterizes it.
- "I love the school - I love the accessibility. My son's teacher, I got to meet her, she was also his T-ball coach...you see teachers in the community - it's neat. My experience is that the community has been very friendly. It's nice to know who your teacher is, and they know you."
- "Teachers are very friendly; they all know all the students. Anybody has a problem, they can talk about it."
- "There's not that openness in another town because chances are you don't go to the same school."
In regard to childcare, sentiments were mixed. Four participants said that they have not used childcare in Black Creek. Three participants believed that their childcare needs are being met adequately in Black Creek. Two participants desired other childcare options in Black Creek than what is presently offered.
How Black Creek Compared to Nearby Municipalities: De Pere and Omro
Along with our Black Creek interviews, our research team conducted case studies in De Pere and Omro, which also have growing young adult populations. Below is a summary of these case studies. Each factor describing population growth and retention in De Pere and Omro matches our study of Black Creek, despite De Pere's population of over 23,000 as of 2010.
De Pere (Brown County)
- Proximity to workforce centers is very important (In the case of De Pere – Appleton and Green Bay)
- Described as more of a bedroom community – basic amenities are available, but residents are more than willing to drive one or two communities over for more specific amenities that can't be found locally.
- Bar culture and drinking recreationally are an important part of building cohesive community networks.
- More so in De Pere than in Black Creek, the school district was a primary reason for locating in the community.
- A desire for affordable housing was less of a driver than for residency in the school district in De Pere, but home values were perceived as strong because of the quality of the schools.
Omro (Winnebago County)
- Proximity to workforce centers is very important (In the case of Omro - Oshkosh and Appleton)
- A well-recognized bedroom community for those who work in Oshkosh and the Fox Cities
- The small school district is very important to residents and a factor for those staying in or relocating to the community.
- The desire to be in a safe, small community was strong among residents in Omro and Black Creek.
- Bar culture and sports leagues affiliated with bars are an important part of building cohesive community networks.
- Nightlife perspectives: there are some options locally, but many others require driving to a larger community. Nightlife in the local community is more family-inclusive, such as having a bonfire or attending a community event.
- Familiarity of neighbors is important, and lends to a sense of safety.
So What? Implications for Black Creek
Some of the results from our study may not be surprising to you. Many of the themes brought up by participants are indicative of any healthy, thriving community. While you may not be surprised to hear that a strong school system and proximity to other urban areas for shopping and/or jobs are important to community members, it is important to remember that there are many communities that are struggling to retain their young adults due to a lack of these community amenities and attributes. We hope that the results of this case study affirm the good work being done in this community while aiding others who will greatly value the observations and results gathered here.
In combing through the qualitative data behind this study, several themes emerged that may have important implications for Black Creek in the future. These themes are described in greater detail here.
Quality of Life is More Important than Convenience
Black Creek residents who participated in this study indicated almost universally that irregular trips out of town for things like medical visits, bulk shopping, specialty products, etc., are not a problem for them. There also seems to be consensus that the retail offerings in Black Creek are convenient and appreciated for spur-of-the moment purchases, or basic amenities. There seems to be more of a desire from residents for proximate regular events and activities, like youth recreation (karate, girls' sports) or personal fitness classes. It seemed that the regularity of these events was what made driving more burdensome.
"Trade-offs" was a word used by multiple people in this study. These participants value the quality of life in Black Creek so much so that they are willing to sacrifice amenities that a larger community might offer, like more dining options or recreational opportunities. Black Creek may look to what other small, outlying communities have done to provide these amenities to their residents in a creative fashion. In some communities where people desired personal fitness amenities, the local schools were able to offer use of facilities to residents seasonally. Flexible fitness spaces that can be shared by multiple tenants offer a lower cost and require less commitment from business owners who may seek to offer their classes locally, but question demand.
Valuing Local Businesses, But Having Many Choices
This theme was not unique to Black Creek, and was shown in Omro as well. Participants in the Black Creek case study express that they value locally-owned businesses in their community and feel that they are a defining part of Black Creek's identity. Despite this fact, participants were readily honest about the fact that they often choose to shop elsewhere. The reasoning behind this varied from participant to participant, with some choosing to shop elsewhere for lower prices, and others choosing to do so for more selection or specialty items. This is by no means unique to Black Creek—the desire to support the local community and the business owners who live in these communities does not always translate into local purchases.
Two of the reasons that locally-owned businesses were so valued by participants was that they are perceived as honest business people, and that they are perceived as being very supportive of local non-profit organizations and community programs like charities and sports programs. Knowing this, it might well suit local businesses to incorporate this message even more into their brands. Seeing local businesses support local programs and families seemed to resonate strongly with participants.
Sensitivity to Growth
Participants in the Black Creek study almost all perceive a local growth trend, either in changing demographics or in housing market trends. There are mixed sentiments surrounding this trend, including some sensitivity about the idea. Black Creek's identity is rooted in it being a "small" town, which some go as far as to describe as rural, or country, and firmly deny being "city" or suburban. This firm small town identity is being challenged by continued suburbanization and the development of new housing, in both Black Creek and in communities throughout the Fox Valley. As the lines blur between rural and suburban, suburban and urban, some accept the change and others resist it.
Some of the reactions to community growth are positive: an opportunity to meet new people, attract new businesses. Others are negative: taking away from rural character, bringing in lower income populations, decreasing the sense of safety in the community. There is some concern that a population influx will change the cost of things like housing or increase the much-loved small class sizes that schools presently offer. Participants were in support of adaptive reuse of existing buildings, both residential and commercial. Black Creek might garner more resident support if development efforts married new development and investment in rehabilitating commercial properties, particularly in the downtown area.
Valuing Local Events and Programs
Black Creek participants place a high intrinsic value on community programs and events, both those occurring with frequent regularity like farmers' markets, book clubs and library programs, as well as community events like Family Daze. Many residents enjoy and appreciate these opportunities for social engagement and cohesion Such events are possibly even more important for those who work outside of Black Creek and are less connected within their community.
Employment and commuter trends do pose a problem for the volunteer-supported organizations that coordinate some of these events. A need for volunteers, and the inevitable burnout of volunteers who take on too much, was mentioned in participant interviews. This leaves Black Creek facing the challenge of how to continue to source volunteers, when more potential volunteers are commuting out of the community for work and may have conflicting commitments like programming for their families.
A desire for gathering spaces that are not bars was expressed by some participants. Bars and taverns play an important role for social networking and cohesion in communities that lack a density of third spaces. This fact, as well as the discomfort that some have with alcohol, support the idea that a third space or gathering space, like a café or coffee shop, would be utilized by residents and community groups alike in Black Creek.