|Municipality||City of Omro|
|Population and Growth|
|Population (2014 if available, otherwise 2010, indicate)||3,517 (2010)|
|WI Workforce Development Region||4|
|Young Adult Gaining Measure||3% (WI median is -22%)|
|Young Adult Maintaining Measure||29% (WI median is 24%)|
|Racial stats, 2010 Census||
94.7% White (non-Hispanic)
1.9% White (Hispanic)
0.7% African American
0.5% American Indian or Alaska Native
0.6% Two or More Races
|Mean Income||$53,033 (2015)|
|Median Income||$44,375 (2015)|
|Year of Latest Comprehensive Development Plan||2005|
|Year and Amount of Last Referendum Passed||(2011) $1 million|
|Notes||Omro is served by the School District of Omro|
|Elementary||H.B. Patch||Pre-K – 1||Public|
|Omro Elementary School||2-5||Public|
|Middle||Omro Middle School||6-8||Public|
|High||Omro High School||9-12||Public|
Conducting the Case Study in Omro
An Omro core group was formed in early 2017 with the assistance of Sheamus Johnson, and University of Wisconsin-Extension Winnebago County educator Allyson Watson took the lead in conducting interviews with community members beginning in April 2017. Collaboration continued to characterize our approach to data collection. The following points briefly review how we developed our interview guide and interview contacts:
- Connect to University of Wisconsin-Extension:
We reached out to UW-Extension in Winnebago County, requesting recommendations for community leaders who might be interested in our project.
- Connect to Omro Leaders:
Catherine Neiswender of UW-Extension Winnebago County recommended we reach out to nonprofit, government, and education leaders along with another Extension educator, who all agreed to be on the core group.
- Develop Interview Guide and Contact List:
Sheamus Johnson conducted a meeting with the core group to address the following three points:
- How is this project relevant to Omro, and your role in Omro?
- What questions should we include in our interviews?
- Who should we invite to interviews?
- Conduct Interviews:
We administered the following questionnaire to thirteen interviewees who we reached through the core group's recommendations, as well as some referrals from those who were interviewed.
- Present and Revise Results:
We analyzed and summarized the results of our interviews, and presented them to our Omro and UW-Extension collaborators, and revised them based on their recommendations.
Omro Interview Guide
- What year were you born?
- How long have you lived here?
Follow up: If not from Omro area originally, why did you move here?
- What is affordable for you here and what is not?
- 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 to Omro?
Follow up: If not from Omro originally, how did you find out about Omro – or if you knew about Omro, what was your perception before moving here?
- Why do people stay in Omro?
- What role do young adults play where you live?
- What strategies or factors that attract young adults to where you live are you aware of?
- To what extend do young adults engage in governance and politics where you live?
- To what extent do young adults engage in cultural life where you live?
- What do young people do for entertainment around here?
- How many people do you know in Omro? (Classified 'know' as knowing someone by first name)
- Where do young adults who live here work? What about other people who live here (over 40)?
- How do you want Omro to grow? Conversely, how do you want it to stay the same?
- What does community mean to you? What does community look like in Omro?
- What do you think of the shopping opportunities in Omro?
- What are the schools like in Omro?
- What do you use that is outside of Omro?
Results for Gaining and Maintaining Young Adults in Omro
While the identity of survey participants remain confidential, a few key demographic insights maybe prove useful to readers in their analysis of these findings.
Of the thirteen interviewees (all between the ages of 20-39), eight were born between 1979-1984, part of the Generation X cohort. The other five participants were born between 1985-1995, representing the Millennial cohort.
Eight of the interview participants were male, the other five participants were female. All interview participants identified as white.
Eight of the interview participants grew up in the Omro area and either did not leave or returned to the community as an adult. Two participants work in Omro and moved to the area, and one moved there for a significant other who had grown up in Omro.
Interview participants represented a wide variety of occupations and educational backgrounds.
Overall, our thirteen interviewees repeatedly cited a number of factors that were attracting young adults, and keeping them in the community.
Close-Knit Community, Small Town Feel
In describing Omro, twelve of the thirteen participants used words such as:
- "small town" (5 people)
- "nice town/community" (3 people)
- "quiet (2 people)
- "cute" (1 person)
- "quaint" (1 person)
When participants were asked how they defined community and how they saw it exemplified in Omro, several key themes emerged:
- Community is like family
- Community comes together to fix things and support one another
- Community is taking pride in your amenities - be they parks, memorials, downtown business facades, historic buildings, etc.
- Community is demonstrating care for others and promoting the common good
Seven of the thirteen participants mentioned specifically that Omro's small town identity was important to them. Residents perceived the community as very safe (5 participants mentioned this). There was a high degree of familiarity with neighbors and the community as a whole. Participants used language such as "close-knit/tight" (4 people), "knowing each other" (4 people), and "watching out for each other" (1 person). In their more detailed descriptions, they said things like:
- "You don't want to lose that traditional Norman Rockwell America that we have here."
- "One of the draws for the community is the close-knit group of people."
- "What I think draws people to smaller towns is the fact that people know each other... it's nice to be able to walk down the street and have your neighbors smile and wave at you."
- "[There's a] 1950s feeling yet. [You] can let your kids walk home from school."
When asked how many people in the Omro community they knew, only two people mentioned knowing fewer than 100 people. Two other people said they knew at least 100, four said they knew at least 500, and five said they knew at least 1,000.
Residents cited the importance of extended, intergenerational families nearby in Winnebago County or, even closer, in Omro itself.
- Eleven of the thirteen interview participants reported having extended family within Winnebago County.
- Eight of the participants reported having extended family within the City of Omro proper.
This high degree of connectivity can also have a downside, with two participants acknowledging that the close-knit social circles made it difficult to maintain privacy:
- People are well-intentioned, but kind of nosy.
Significance of Community Amenities, Community Organizations, and Community Events
The degree of social cohesion in Omro was strongly communicated through community amenities, organizations and events. Interview participants referenced many community organizations by name that they were personally involved in or familiar with and credited them with social cohesion in Omro, including: Scouts (3 people), high school programs like sports teams and band (3 people),volunteer emergency services (2 people),service clubs (2 people), the Main Street organization/Business Improvement District (2 people), church (1 person), and the Historical Society (1 person). Seven participants cited adult bar sports leagues, particularly softball, as a means of connecting socially in Omro. Five of the thirteen particpants cited the community pool as an appreciated amenity and opportunity for social engagement.
- "Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts are even more active here. They have really phenomenal programs for that compared to others in the area that my [family is] involved in in the Fox Cities."
- "We set up for [school] events. We also go to community pep band events, too. My mom doesn't even have a kid in high school anymore but she's still [involved]."
- "During [community events], you'll see everyone you know from high school. People come back for those community events... A lot of people who are further away make a point to come back during those events."
- "I've heard that the Omro municipal pool is a lot quieter and cleaner than those in Oshkosh or the Fox Valley. I've heard that from people that come here for open swim or lessons in the summer."
Small School Size and Shared Partners in Raising Youth
Omro is served by the School District of Omro. The school district consists of four schools: H.B. Patch Elementary School, Omro Elementary School), Omro Middle School, and Omro High School.
Similar to findings in other municipality case studies, small school size was identified as an important draw for the community. Eight of the thirteen participants mentioned Omro's schools as a draw for the community. Not all interview participant were parents of students in the Omro schools, but they generally held the view that Omro schools offer competitive resources for the size of the community.
- "I think the schools are what attract people. It's a nice small town school."
- "I absolutely love that my [child] will be one of 400 in the school, versus one of 400 in a class."
Two of the thirteen interview participants appreciated what they saw as a culture of shared responsibility in parenting and looking out for each others' children.
- "[Community is] knowing that if your kid does something stupid, that rather than hearing it from the police, [you'll hear it from a neighbor]."
- "The old adage of it taking a village to raise a child? There's a lot of truth to that. I think you see that here. If my kid screws up, I want my buddy's parent to say something to [them]."
Three interview participants shared that they home school their children and do not use the public school system. Importantly, however, one of these parents noted that, despite not being a part of the school system, they still get support from it:
- "[The Omro Library staff] know our kids and they know what we're into and what we want to read about. They really care about us."
Proximity to Oshkosh as a Workforce Center and Accessing Area Amenities
Omro's close proximity to both Oshkosh and the Fox Cities area was noted by seven of the thirteen interview participants. The shared consensus of ten of those participants was that most people are employed outside of Omro, but that the short commute allows for the quality of life that a small town can provide.
- "Most people are commuting to Oshkosh. Some work in the outlying areas. Relatively few people that I know actually work in Omro."
Interview participants expressed the belief, or perhaps hope, that proximity to a larger metropolitan meant that businesses were unlikely to open locations in both Oshkosh and Omro. And while this meant that Omro residents would have to drive to Oshkosh for specific shopping needs, not all interview participants desired that chain stores come into Omro. Three of the thirteen participants actually stated preferring that chains stay out of Omro, a theme that we will return to later in this analysis.
- "There are tiers [for shopping]: I've got my basics in Omro. If you want a slightly nicer level, Oshkosh. If you want to go [30-35 minutes away], then Appleton [for the mall]."
- "[You can find] just about anything you really need in a pinch without leaving Omro. You also might pay a little more for it."
The top retail destinations that people mentioned driving to other places for were discount/big box retail outlets (Target, Wal-Mart, Costco), big box hardware and building supply stores (Menards, Lowes, Fleet Farm) and specialty natural/organic groceries (Festival Foods).
Four of the thirteen participants, mentioned that they shop using an Amazon Prime account (a shopping option including free two day shipping), which eliminates the need to travel outside of Omro for specialty items. Three of the five Millennial participants shared that they had an Amazon Prime account.
Growth and Change in Omro
In addition to participants' examples of what has made Omro an attractive place for young adults to call home, they also provided thoughts on things that they think are missing in the community.
A Desire for More Dining Options in Omro
Six of the thirteen participants shared that, while they did not object to driving 10-15 minutes to shop, there was a lack of both fast casual (2 people) and sit-down dining (5 people) options in Omro such as coffee shops, supper clubs, and family restaurants. Some specific chain/franchise restaurants they named included: Little Caesars Pizza, Starbucks Coffee, Panera Bread, Hardee's and Jimmy John's.
Entertainment Options for Teenagers
Six of the thirteen participants noted that Omro offered an excellent variety of programming for youth locally, but that teenagers did not have the same volume of opportunities. They desired more activities and programs for that age group. One participant each mentioned a Boys and Girls Club, an arcade, a movie theatre, and a coffee shop/gathering space as options in this vein.
Business Growth and Development
Along with the desire for specific business expansion in Omro, five of the thirteen interview participants also had thoughts about the broader retail and business culture in the community. They said things like:
- "[Curb appeal] shapes people's opinion of the City... The whole curb appeal is very negative... It'd be great to send the message that you don't have to go to Oshkosh for everything."
- "We don't capture Highway 21 traffic at all... we could probably revitalize a lot of these downtown businesses if we captured 1% of the through traffic."
Three of the thirteen participants were also concerned that continued business development in Omro might sacrifice some of the locally-owned flavor of the community. Participants seemed willing to sacrifice some convenience to have locally-owned businesses in their downtown district.
- "You know who the [business] owners are. Keep it a locally-owned community."
- "I hope they don't sell out to big corporations. I like that the car place is a locally-owned business."
- "I'd rather [Omro] be a small town than a suburb. I don't want you to have to find downtown, I like how downtown is the main drag and you can't miss it."
- "I don't want to lose the small town feel. I don't want a... big chain store... I'm okay driving 10-15 minutes into Oshkosh."
Housing Growth and Development
Some interview participants held a similarly guarded attitude toward continued subdivision growth in the larger Omro area. Three of the thirteen participants shared a fear that continued suburban sprawl would blur the boundary of the Town of Algoma and the City of Oshkosh.
- "I appreciate the subdivisions popping up that bring more people in, but I'd rather it not become a complete cookie cutter subdivision town. I'd like to see the historic part remain."
What is Omro Doing Right? Where is there Room For Improvement?
Overall, interview participants credited the City (and community at large) of Omro with doing several things right:
- Engaging in intentional historic preservation efforts in the downtown district and in historic home districts (2 people).
- Providing a wide variety of engaging and well-attended community events (7 people).
- Preserving locally-owned businesses in the community, rather than national chains or franchises (3 people).
There were two areas where participants desired to see Omro improve:
- Improving curb appeal and facades of downtown businesses (3 people).
- Take better advantage of the waterfront to appeal to boaters, fishermen (3 people). Some worried that the depth of the Fox River was not suitable for large watercraft, and saw that as a deterrent to business growth.
How Omro Compared to Nearby Municipalities: De Pere and Black Creek
There were two other case study communities in this region of the state: De Pere and Black Creek. While De Pere was a larger community, it and Black Creek were similar to Omro in terms of their proximity to larger urban areas.
De Pere and Omro – Similarities:
- Easy access to larger workforce centers allowed for employment opportunity, but also helped to preserve a distinct community identity in both of these communities.
- High praise was given to the public school districts in both De Pere and Omro, often crediting their respective school districts as some of the best in the region.
- Both De Pere and Omro, who share the Fox River, lamented underutilization of the riverfront. Residents in both communities hoped that future development might incorporate the Fox River.
- De Pere and Omro residents both cited high taxes initially, but acknowledged that the quality of services received was also high.
Black Creek and Omro – Similarities:
- Black Creek and Omro both shared a value of a 'small town identity' which comes with being located on the fringes of a larger metropolitan area.
- Black Creek and Omro residents both placed high value on their local community events.
- Black Creek and Omro residents both shared sentiments regarding shopping opportunities – that basic amenities were readily available locally, but that greater variety and discounted prices were available with a longer drive out of town.
- Easy access to workforce centers was a major highlight of participant responses in both Black Creek (New London, Shawano, Fox Cities workforce centers) and Omro (Oshkosh, Neenah/Menasha, Fox Cities workforce centers).
So What? Implications for Omro
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 have important implications for Omro in the future. These themes are described in greater detail here.
Small Town Culture is Integral to Omro's Identity
A facet of Omro that proved loud and clear in the participant interviews is that people desire a community that they identify as being a "small town", or quiet and quaint. This appeared to weigh as a higher desire than affordability of a community, a fact that surprised core group members during the report review process. Knowing now that community members select Omro because it is small, cohesive, safe-feeling, and seemingly timeless – the municipality may want to consider that message in their branding. The City of Omro's current brand "Historically Connected by Nature" may not convey the characteristics people most value.
With a smaller population size, greater social cohesion and connectivity appeared to come hand in hand. The majority of participants shared that having a high degree of familiarity with local business owners, neighbors and educators was important to them. There was some reflection from participants that were not originally from Omro that they were unsure of how to connect with other community members, and some Omro natives reflected that they presume there are those left out of the tight-knit social circles. This prompted discussion in the core group about how the City of Omro might reach out to new residents to make them feel welcome and increase chances of connecting new residents socially.
On the subject of affordability, several participants shared that they feel that Omro's water bills are higher than surrounding communities. Core group members noted that many communities bill for water utilities monthly, whereas Omro bills quarterly. Writing a bigger check at once, rather than paying in smaller increments monthly may give people a perception that costs are higher.
Embrace and Promote Outdoor Recreation
A recurring theme in participant interviews was that the Omro Municipal Pool is a key community amenity for parents. It seemed as though Omro had a leg up on nearby municipalities in this respect, too. Another outdoor recreation amenity that was brought up was the city's kayak rental program. These amenities are perhaps known by some locals, but perhaps not by others, or by visitors. This also ties into the city's current brand of "Connected by Nature".
A Need for Community Spaces
Some participants shared a desire for an all-age inclusive third space, and others specifically indicated a desire for a space for area youth. A coffee shop like space was a similar demand in nearby Black Creek, too. A space like this would provide community meeting space, a place for independent business owners working remotely to gather and share ideas, and would provide a safe space for youth to spend time, as well. Some communities, such as Wisconsin Rapids, have successfully expanded their public libraries to include a small format café. Other small communities have transformed historic downtown storefronts into spaces of this nature, such as Alley Cat Coffeehouse in Hortonville.