Readers Weigh In On Door County’s Brain Drain

In January the Pulse began a series, Door County’s Brain Drain, devoted to the peninsula’s dwindling population of young adults. We’re looking into why they’re leaving, but more importantly, what might attract them back. The series has generated a lot of interest and discussion from readers, many of whom have great insight and ideas of their own. This week we publish excerpts of some of the best we’ve received (edited for space). Many more great comments are online, and we encourage readers to continue to comment at



Innovation needed



Talk about vocational careers versus college education is an old argument. Generally these are entry level, low-paying positions.



Young people are the future of Door County. Door County needs to take some risks and be proactive – not just offer the same ‘ol ho hum choices: vocational training or a college education.



Professor Kathleen Schmidt, Ellison Bay



Dumbing down our schools is not the answer



The article “Re-thinking Education” really concerns me about the educational system here in Door County, and it makes me reconsider our decision to move back and educate our children here.



Shouldn’t the school system be good enough that you don’t have to have a debate about educating your students enough to get any “high school equivalent” job after they graduate high school, while at the same time providing higher educational classes for those who are advanced and who could possibly move out of the area, gain perspective and knowledge, and god-forbid come back for whatever reason?! Or should we be so selfish as to say: if you’re going to leave here, why should we put any educational effort or funding into you?



Morgan Mann, Sturgeon Bay



Renew respect for the working class



The overwhelming desire of parents for the past fifty years has been to see their children go to college. How many times have we seen the following quote, “I was the first one in my family ever to graduate from college.”



This huge chicken has now come home to roost in the County of Door, the State of Wisconsin and all over the United States. Policy makers decry the “brain drain” yet where in the world are all of those brains supposed to go to find the very employment they’ve been trained for?



Plainly put, the university system, in an effort to expand its services to an ever-expanding universe of clients, has now produced the unintended consequence of having produced too many brains chasing too few jobs. All this while skilled trades of all sorts suffer a dearth of qualified job applicants.



The attitude of many Americans is that working with your hands is less valuable than working with your brain, as if the two are not connected. We talk about “good paying jobs,” giving an enthusiastic nod to the college graduate and turning up our collective noses to agriculture, manufacturing and service industry work.



When the notion that unionized workers were all featherbedders or that local shopkeepers were just ripping us off because paying less and living better came from Wal-Mart, we began the dogged victims of inexorable fate. What did we expect?



Mike Serpe, Door County Administrator



Radical thinking required



Door County is in desperate need of information utility upgrades. Until the county decides that it isn’t a choice, but a necessity, it won’t get done.



Door County needs to radically think outside the box here. The fact it is a peninsula, with no opportunity for lateral movement for jobs, is going to call for a radical new strategy.



Do we have the will and intellectual ability to get it done? I think so, now we just have to figure out how and convince those who still don’t think we need to do anything to come along.



Andy Hall, Sturgeon Bay



Time for banks, leaders to step up



Your recent articles make a number of valid points. If we want to “connect the dots” perhaps the Door County Economic Development Corporation, all of our lending institutions and the County Board need to see how they need to step up and start seeing tourism as an industry and as a major component in the economic picture.



The DCEDC is out to lunch on tourism, period. They have been living in the glow of past accomplishments. Lending institutions are avoiding tourism related businesses. Business owners can’t hire if money doesn’t start moving to new business and to support existing businesses with loans. It was small business that started Baylake, brought Associated, North Shore and Citizens here – where are these institutions now? The Visitor Bureau has done a great job in “branding” Door County as a one-note location – romantic getaways. The message is “adults only” and “please have big bucks.” We’ve lost the emphasis on families, the diversity of the industry here in price point and opportunities.



The county board, as well as town, village or city leadership needs to get the message that tourism is a major industry here in Door County and get involved or get out of the way.



Carol Stayton, Washington Island



Starting the Door County economic engine



To move beyond the tourist economy, Door County would need to attract an anchor economic engine such as significant research university or government institution.



Realistically, I don’t think the county has the clout or the will to land such a significant player. So, it is likely to remain a tourist economy with beautiful scenery wonderful people…but very few young people.



Dan Noel, New Trier, IL



How to attract youth



If one of the many Wisconsin schools had a culinary and art school in the area we would have many resources and instructors for them in addition to attracting a “college town” way of life.



Ginny Siegel, Baileys Harbor



Everyone suffers when young people leave



I am worried about retiring to a community that has more senior residents than any other population. What is the quality of my life going to be if I am surrounded only by people my own age? If I wanted that type of lifestyle, which I don’t, then I would retire to a retirement gated community elsewhere.



Everyone in this county will suffer if Door County continues to not provide an environment where all ages will thrive, grow and share their lives together.



Denice Reda Hubbard, Glen Ellyn, IL



Retirees yes, retirement community no



Perhaps another idea is that we retirees up here sure don’t want to live in a community without the stimulation of a mixed age population. Tap into this population to do something about it, too!



Sheila Sabrey Saperstein






The problem I have found over the last 25 years of either living or visiting Door County is that affordable, seasonal housing has vanished. This I attribute to higher real estate costs but more so to local and county ordinances that do not allow the type of housing that the county needs. As a business owner we tried to recruit college students from around the state and we were successful; where we ultimately failed was trying to find them a place to stay and therefore they didn’t come up. I believe we need to push our communities to allow the type of housing we need and when you build it they will definitely come back.



Britton Unkefer, Fish Creek



American youth are Door County ambassadors



The article entitled “Filling in Door County’s Age Gap” explains exactly how many of my friends and myself ended up living in Door County. Fourteen years ago I spent five college summers working in Door County and I had such a great experience that after college graduation my main goal became figuring out how I could live here.



Having worked at Wilson’s with 40 other college and high school students I made a lot of friends, many of whom also moved to Door County shortly after graduation and or who regularly visit. This large group of people who are now in our early thirties are a perfect example of how to close the age gap. Had I not found a good job, somewhat affordable housing, and a great group of friends my age during these college summers, I know that I would not be living here today.



Time is well-spent recruiting American youth to Door County summer jobs because they are the best ambassadors.



Vinni Chomeau, Fish Creek



But college kids don’t fill all gaps



European workers fill in the shoulder seasons. Without them, I would have no employees in May, September, and October when the Americans are back at school. I also feel it has become more difficult to staff in recent years as businesses open earlier in the season and stay open later. Back in the day when you were open from Memorial Day to Labor Day you could get away with only hiring locals or college kids. Not anymore. However, something needs to be done about employee housing. The unfortunate thing is that I fear regulations would make a large-scale facility cost prohibitive.



Todd Frisoni, business owner, Sister Bay