|Municipality||City of De Pere|
|Population and Growth|
|Population (2014 if available, otherwise 2010, indicate)||23,800 (2010)|
|WI Workforce Development Region||5|
|Young Adult Gaining Measure||11% (WI median is -22%)|
|Young Adult Maintaining Measure||32% (WI median is 24%)|
|Racial stats, 2010 Census||
92.8% White (non-Hispanic)
1.2% White (Hispanic)
0.9% African American
1.2% American Indian and Alaska Native
1.8% Two or More Races
|Mean Income||$55,345 (2015)|
|Median Income||$33,084 (2015)|
|Year of Latest Comprehensive Development Plan||2010|
|Year and Amount of Last Referendum Passed||Unified School District of De Pere (2015), $7.1 million; West De Pere School District (2006), $18.25 million|
|Notes||De Pere is served by two public school districts: Unified School District of De Pere and West De Pere School District.|
|Elementary||Hemlock Creek Elementary||Pre-K – 5||Public|
|Westwood Elementary||Pre-K – 5||Public|
|Altmeyer Elementary||Pre-K – 4||Public|
|Dickinson Elementary||Pre-K – 4||Public|
|Heritage Elementary||Pre-K – 4||Public|
|Syble Hopp School||Ages 3 - 23||Public|
|Green Bay Montessori Children's World||Pre-K – 1||Private|
|Notre Dame School of De Pere||Pre-K – 8||Private|
|Our Lady of Lourdes School||Pre-K – 8||Private|
|Middle||West De Pere Middle School||6-8||Public|
|Phantom Knight School of Opportunity (Public Charter)||7-12||Public Charter|
|De Pere Middle School||7-8||Public|
|Syble Hopp School||Ages 3-23||Public|
|Notre Dame School of De Pere||Pre-K – 8||Private|
|Our Lady of Lourdes School||Pre-K – 8||Private|
|High||West De Pere High School||9-12||Public|
|Phantom Knight School of Opportunity (Public Charter)||7-12||Public Charter|
|De Pere High School||9-12||Public|
|Syble Hopp School||Ages 3-23||Public|
Conducting the Case Study in De Pere
Sheamus Johnson began building a core group in De Pere in January of 2017. Allyson Watson, who was then a University of Wisconsin-Extension educator in Brown County, later became a member of the research team. The following points briefly review how we developed our interview guide and interview contacts:
- Connect to University of Wisconsin-Extension:
We reached out to Allyson Watson with Brown County UW-Extension, requesting recommendations for community leaders who might be interested in our project.
- Connect to De Pere Leaders to Form a Core Group:
Allyson Watson took the lead on reaching out to a number of government, business, and community leaders in De Pere.
- Develop Interview Guide and Contact List:
We met with the core group to address the following three points:
- How is this project relevant to De Pere, and your role in De Pere?
- What questions should we include in our interviews?
- Who should we invite to interviews?
This meeting solidified our interview guide for De Pere, highlighting those questions that fit best with the community. It was also a major milestone in our holistic and participatory approach. Allyson Watson joined the research team to assist in identifying potential participants, conducting interviews, and analyzing the interview data. The participatory nature of conducting research with a member of the community greatly contributed to our holistic understanding of what makes De Pere an attractive community for young adults.
- Conduct Interviews:
We administered the following interview guide to twenty interviewees whom we reached through the core group's recommendations. Sheamus Johnson and Allyson Watson conducted the interviews between February and early May of 2017.
- Present and Revise Report:
We analyzed and summarized the results of our interviews, presented them to our De Pere Core Group, and revised the report based on their comments.
De Pere Interview Guide
- How long have you lived here?
Follow-up: Where do you live?
- How local is your family to where you live?
- What would you say to someone who is thinking of moving here?
- What would you say to a young adult (20-39) who is thinking of moving here?
- Why do people move here?
Follow up: How did you find out about De Pere?
- Why do people stay here?
- What strategies or factors that attract young adults to where you live are you aware of?
- What do young people do for entertainment around here?
- How would you want your town to grow? How would you want it to stay the same?
- What people would not feel comfortable here?
- Why did you move here?
- What would influence you to stay or leave?
Follow up: Where would you go?
- What does community mean to you? What does community look like here?
- Where do young adults who live here work? What about other people who live here?
Follow up: Do you feel like there is opportunity there?
- What are the schools like here?
Results for De Pere
While the identities of interview participants remain confidential, a few key demographic insights may prove useful to readers in their analysis of these findings.
- The De Pere Study included participants who live in the Unified School District of De Pere boundaries or in the West De Pere School District boundaries. One participant is employed in De Pere, but lives in Green Bay.
- More than half of the 20 participants live in the City of De Pere (proper), with other participants living in the Town of Ledgeview, Village of Hobart, Town of Lawrence, Village of Ashwaubenon and City of Green Bay.
- There was a relatively even gender distribution in participation. All interview participants were Caucasian and one was of Hispanic/Latino descent.
- While the City of De Pere does have higher educational attainment levels than some other municipalities in Brown County, interview participants had educational backgrounds above community averages. Thirteen participants mentioned that they had obtained a four year (bachelors) degree, and seven participants had either obtained or were in the process of obtaining post graduate education.
- Another indicator that was outside the community average was the number of homeowners included in the participant group. Thirteen of the participants mentioned that they own a home and no participants mentioned outright that they are renters.
Overall, our twenty interviewees repeatedly cited a number of factors that were attracting young adults and keeping them in the community.
Close-knit Community, Small Town Feeling in a City
All De Pere participants felt connected to their community. They noted that there is a lot to do, but that it maintains a small-town atmosphere. Sometimes this was fostered through a sense of community, and sometimes supported by adequate amenities.
- "What I love about De Pere is there's a lot to do like a big city, but it has small town values."
- "It provides close access to everything you need in life. It has a growing big city amenities. It is still very much the feel of a small town with very close community ties."
- "I would say it's a great, supportive community. Always something to do, and it's small enough that you know people, and you run into people you know. Familiarity. You feel cared about."
- "De Pere offers the charm of a small community with the resources of a bigger city."
The connections to community are a significant factor it what keeps young adults in De Pere. Ten interview participants shared that people stay because of deep roots to the community, which may take some time to cultivate.
- "Once you're established here - it takes a little while to get in - it's a very generous mentality. People who are connected often want to help one another out."
- "I think people identify very closely with the community when they live here. It makes it more difficult to leave...when you have roots in a community."
- "I think people stay for the community. It's hard to describe, there's a sense of community in De Pere where people are very proud of the community, give back to the community and are involved in the community. People get used to that and they like that."
- "People stay because it's that whole community sense, [you] feel like you are a part of something, kids get involved, park system is great."
Deep roots may refer not only to the strength of relationships in the community, but also a proximity to extended family or to a personal connection and history in the community.
- Seven of the interview participants shared that they were born in Brown County, two of whom were born in De Pere specifically. Five of the interview participants shared that their spouse was born in Brown County, and three spouses were born in De Pere specifically.
- Eight of the interview participants said that they had at least one member of their extended family living in Brown County, and five of them had at least one extended family member living in De Pere specifically.
- Four of the interview participants had either received their K-12 education in De Pere. Nine had either completed or were receiving their collegiate education in De Pere and had opted to stay in the community or return to the community afterward. This high retention rate of De Pere K-12 and college students may explain some of the comments relating to 'deep roots' in the community.
Young adults' connection to De Pere is further evidenced by the fact that an outstanding career opportunity is about the only thing that would influence them to leave the community. Eight participants mentioned that a better career opportunity would influence them to leave.
- "My husband owns his own company, so to leave it would have to be a really, really amazing career opportunity."
- "It would have to be two things for me to leave: career - if I was given an amazing opportunity and I knew my career would flourish because of it. The second would be my kids. They're only in elementary school, but if they go to college somewhere else - we might follow our kids."
Close Proximity to Green Bay, Fox Valley Cities
One of the frequently mentioned reasons why De Pere is an attractive place for young adults is its proximity to other urban areas. Fourteen participants mentioned De Pere's proximity to other areas. De Pere is large enough to have sufficient amenities of its own, but the proximity to Green Bay and the Fox Valley allows for a greater diversity in employment opportunities, entertainment, and a place to live that is conveniently located close to all of these and family.
- "It provides close access to everything you need in life. It has a growing [set of] big city amenities. It is still very much the feel of a small town with very close community ties."
- "Proximity to everything in De Pere is close to Green Bay. It's a 10-15 minute drive anywhere."
- "Well, I would say if you travel for work, or work in Green Bay, it's nice enough to be outside the city limits, if you work in Appleton, you're there in 20 minutes. It's a nice spot to get around to different things, It's a geographically smart place to live and outside the busy city."
- "The reason people live in De Pere specifically is, I believe, the excellent schools and the smaller town feel that is closer to Green Bay and has everything you need."
Proximity to other urban areas is a theme throughout many of our other case studies. De Pere's thematic connection to other municipalities in our study will be examined later in this report.
Excellent Schools, Family-Oriented and Perceived as Safe
Twelve participants felt that De Pere was not only a safe community, but an excellent one to raise children in. This was largely due to positive perceptions of the school, plenty of activities for families, and a community that embraces families.
- "It's a great place to settle down for sure; there's a lot of activities for kids and adults. It's a very family-centric area, but it also has a focus on staying current."
- "The school district in De Pere is very popular right now. Not open enrolled any more, driving up house sales in De Pere. Housing prices have grown a lot because of that, particularly the West De Pere school district. The only way to get in is to move in to the community since they don't have open enrollment. The school is highly ranked at the state level, which is attractive to young adults."
- "Then I would probably go on to say it is one of the best neighborhoods for your kids. The school district is rated high."
- "It's a safe city to raise a family in."
- "I'd say De Pere has probably one of the best school systems in the area."
- "It's a really good area to buy a home because the values are high and stay high because of the really good school district."
Perspectives on St. Norbert College
Due to the composition of the De Pere Core Group (including some educational leaders from St. Norbert College) and the referrals shared for potential interview participants, it is important to note that St. Norbert College was highly represented in this study. St. Norbert College has a student body of just over 2,000 undergraduate students. Five of the interview participants had attended St. Norbert College for their undergraduate education and four had attended or were attending St. Norbert College for their post-graduate work.
We asked participants who first came to De Pere as St. Norbert College students about their perspectives of the community as students. They said things like:
- "[It's] a pinnacle of the community."
- "One of the big things that struck me was that the campus was walkable... Being close to the [Fox] River, but still having the amenities of town was important... I really loved the architecture, too, of both the campus and the community."
- "I really love how St. Norbert College has 'communio' as a part of their values... I really believe that a community should... care for their own like an extended family."
Change and Growth in De Pere
Concerns Related to Rapid Growth and Housing Demand
If there was any one subject that drew criticism from residents, it was the rapid growth of the school district in recent years resulting in larger class sizes (4 participants), and the development of new subdivisions along with increased pressure on the housing market (3 participants).
- "My biggest concern about De Pere is that it is growing past its capacity and it will eventually bust... our schools are past capacity right now. We're going to have to build another school."
- "The property is very expensive and It's very hard to find a starter house, or any house really. Starters especially."
- "Taxes would influence me to leave. If property taxes get too high."
- "You still see large open plots of farmland in West De Pere... that's another how many hundred new homes? How is the school district preparing for this? Are they prepared to handle the growth? ... You want the community to grow, but how much can it handle from the infrastructure side? ... I don't want to lose the highly rated schools that aren't overcrowded."
- "I was talking to someone last week who put their house on the market. It sold within an hour over the asking price. It's a hot market right now... [De Pere is] the new popular thing."
Commercial Development in De Pere
Seven participants shared that they felt De Pere was on the right track with recent development, particularly in the downtown area – mentioning specifically the 102 on Broadway (luxury apartment development) and an increase in modern restaurants. Nine participants spoke to specific development ideas for Downtown De Pere and emphasized restaurants and entertainment venues (such as breweries, third spaces, ethnic dining and concert venues). Six participants shared that they felt these specific types of amenities were attractive to young professionals:
- "I'd like the population to grow, more young professionals in the area. I'd like to see more contemporary restaurants, bars, housing."
- "A greater focus on culture... coffee shops... breweries... entertainment... I think those are a lot of things that Chicago, Minneapolis and Portland used to attract young people. We're [De Pere] doing a better job of adding those things."
Entertainment in De Pere
Participants mentioned a general drinking culture in De Pere as a form of entertainment. But they also discussed how there is much more to do for fun in De Pere.
- "Heavy culture of drinking involved, so there's that. There's the farmers' markets, the bike trails, waterways, restaurants, bars, concert series (outdoor ones - Fridays on the Fox and the St. Norbert Knights on the Fox concert series..."
- "I think that's a conversation for a 20 year old. I've got children. Where I'm at, De Pere does offer a lot like Knights on the Fox on Tuesdays in the summer, Yoga in the Park on Thursdays. We choose to be a part of those as a family."
- "During the summer all the farmers' markets and music festivals (which are smaller), the art walks, there's really so much."
- "I think they do a lot outdoors. They enjoy the bars and entertainment, the social aspect. There's a lot of sports - volleyball leagues, softball leagues, curling."
Participants also saw the warmer months as offering more opportunities than the winter.
- "I believe there's a lot more to do when we're not covered in snow."
- "There is a gap in entertainment options in winter. However, we do have charity events like Wine and Cheese, Boys and Girls Club, Soup and Suds, but yeah it is pretty limited in winter."
One participant noted a positive change in winter outdoor entertainment requested by the community and facilitated by the city and county:
- "Trails are open in the winter time too. De Pere really listens to feedback, Fox River and the other trail, they listened to the feedback that people wanted it to be plowed and snow cleared. That got passed. [They] can be used during the winter now."
Factors Important for Young Adult Retention
When asked what participants would like to see remain the same in De Pere, interview participants generally expressed contentment with the way things are presently, and wanted the city to maintain a high level of quality in community services, such as education, pools, parks/trails, recreation programs. Specific responses to this question included:
- "The community pools, parks, trails... we need to be sure that we're mindful of maintaining them as we move forward."
- "I want the City to be able to offer the same amenities that it does... When you call the City, you're talking to a person, not a machine. I like how the City is structured and what they have to offer."
- "There is great access to parks along the Fox River, I wouldn't want to see that go away."
Maintaining the city's strengths seemed to be tied to the current population size/density, too. There was, as mentioned earlier, concern about rapid growth in the community expressed by seven interviewees along the following themes:
- "Eventually we're going to become like Ashwaubenon and be landlocked... Their school is the largest for open-enrollment because they don't have a lot of kids living there. How do we still maintain the small town charm [despite growth]? That's what makes De Pere great – our small town charm."
- "I don't want De Pere to get too big, because I don't want the bad to come in with the good. There's something special about De Pere where we don't have a lot of crime."
- "You don't want to get too big. You don't want to be Green Bay, Appleton, Madison."
Historic Downtown Preservation
Many participants shared that they would like to preserve the historic feel of buildings in downtown De Pere and that it was important that a preservation-focused development mindset continue. They also noted that there seemed to be some vacant buildings, and that they would like them to be used rather than razed for new construction.
- "What I don't want to see is the old architecture being torn down, I want to see it being repurposed... The moment the old architecture comes down is the moment it loses its charm."
- "I like keeping the historic look of the buildings - I wish that we'd try to not tear down old buildings and put up new ones. Keep the historic look as much as possible."
- "Character is important to be maintained - it's quaintness. Physical infrastructure is what defines quaintness, I like to see the old school look, but interiors of buildings revamped. Historic exterior but modern and contemporary interior."
- "I love the historic charm of the area. One of the commercial developers [in De Pere] has a heart for... historic properties. I love that because [they] maintain the integrity of the old world look but enhance [it] to make it attractive to new businesses... young professionals."
How De Pere Compared to Other Municipalities
Proximity to other Urban Centers
Proximity to other urban areas was frequently mentioned by participants not only in De Pere, but several other municipalities in our study as well. In other locations, the importance of proximity to other urban areas was particularly visible in where people worked. In New Richmond and Somerset (in Western Wisconsin near the Minnesota border) people estimated that roughly half of the population worked in town, and the other half in the Twin Cities (MN) or other nearby towns. In De Pere, one of the larger communities we studied, being close to another city certainly affords a diversity of employment options, but it may not be as strong of pull in De Pere as in other locations. This is evidenced by multiple participants mentioning employers more local to De Pere as capturing the workforce.
School, Feelings of Safety
Most of the communities we studied cite the schools as a primary factor for attracting and retaining young adults. When asked what they would say to a young adult (20-39) who is thinking of moving to their community, participants frequently mentioned that it is a great place to start a family and raise kids. Similarly, De Pere residents, along with those in other municipalities, feel a general sense of safety in their community.
Entertainment and the Outdoors
The Fox River and Fox River Trail were frequently mentioned by De Pere residents. Some viewed the trail as a convenient way to commute to work. Others liked accessing it for exercise or to simply enjoy the outdoors. Other municipalities were similarly tied to outdoor resources. Residents in Hayward, Onalaska, West Bend, Somerset, New Richmond, and Plover consider access to outdoor recreation/amenities as an important part of why they enjoy living there.
Outdoor and community event programming (facilitated by the municipality or a community organization) were recurring themes in De Pere and other communities studied. De Pere residents mentioned things like Yoga in the Park, the Knights on the Fox outdoor concert series at St. Norbert College, as well as the city-operated recreation leagues for youth. This was a common thread in nearby communities of Omro and Black Creek, where interview participants had high praise for community events and credited them for helping to cultivate a culture of social cohesion.
So What? Implications for De Pere
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 another urban area 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 your own community while aiding others who will greatly value the observations and results gathered in your community.
In combing through the qualitative data for this study, several themes have also emerged that have important implications for De Pere in the future. These themes are described in greater detail here.
Amenities are Important
In many ways, De Pere seems to be on the right track in terms of commercial development, but this is not void of community members' concerns for other types of growth. Many participants in our study mentioned that downtown De Pere has undergone many positive changes in the recent years. The increase in downtown amenities are attractive to young adults. Additional dining options and the luxury apartment development were among the attractive additions to De Pere's downtown. While the uptick in these amenities has been positively received, community members are hungry for more modern dining and entertainment options. They are also eager to preserve the historic feel of downtown. Future commercial developments in downtown would likely be positively received if they hit these two points; historic preservation of the store front and either entertainment or dining.
Growth is Double-Edged
While the interview participants see downtown development as positive, they have concerns about increasing population and overburdening the school system. This, coupled with the fact that many residents appreciate and depend on the high quality of community services, poses a challenge for future development in De Pere. Additionally, special attention should be paid to the current housing demand in De Pere. Some interview participants expressed concern about not being able to find a reasonably priced starter home, and about how the school district is planning for increased population from new developments. It will be particularly important to balance growth with those factors that attract young adults to the area in first place; good schools, attractive and modern amenities, and a general sense of safety in a small-feeling family-oriented community.
Community residents embrace and utilize the Fox River trail for both recreation and transportation. Recently, the city began plowing the trail during the winter months, a step that was praised by at least one participant in our study. Given that interviewees also discussed a decline in community activities during the winter months, support for winter events may be important. De Pere already has a good track record of listening to community members' wants and concerns. Continuing to be open and receptive to community member's wants and concerns will set De Pere up to be an attractive place for young adults and residents in general.