MILWAUKEE — This summer's Democratic National Convention, which is expected to draw 50,000 people to Milwaukee, is an important branding opportunity for the city.
Convention visitors will get an up-close look at recently-completed development projects downtown like the new BMO Harris Tower and Fiserv Forum.
But Dr. Eve Hall, President and CEO of the Milwaukee Urban League, said the DNC presents a chance for visitors to take in some of Milwaukee's other neighborhoods, and see the diversity that now makes up a city once known primarily for its German and Polish roots, its cheeses and Miller beer.
"There just seems to be this constant, negative stereotype about our city as it relates to the progress or the success of African Americans," Hall said. "But when some of these individuals come into the city, they're really surprised about what is actually here. The DNC, I believe, will provide that opportunity for people to see what Milwaukee really has to offer, and how much diversity there is here."
Hall said Milwaukee regularly receives recognition for being a poor place for African Americans to live.
Hall said Milwaukee certainly has its share of challenges: like a 13.9% unemployment rate among African Americans, and the dilemma of how to prevent rising tax assessments, a positive side effect of new development, from pricing people out of their own homes.
But she thinks Milwaukee is a more diverse city than reports like the 24/7 Wall St. summary suggest.
"The more we can expose people to our city, the more we can rebrand," Hall said.
In an effort to showcase some of Milwaukee's African American history and culture, the Urban League will partner with the Black Holocaust Museum during the convention.
The Urban League also already hosted a meeting connecting DNC officials with vendors/businesses of color.
"We're working on a number of things that should attract some people from the DNC," Hall said.
Tiffany Henry, President of the Milwaukee Urban League Young Professionals, said promoting Milwaukee's diversity during a prominent event like the DNC should help the Brew City attract more talent.
"We can be a very inclusive network of young professionals," Henry said.
"We have to toot our own horn, and to talk about the good that happens in Milwaukee, and the good that happens in Wisconsin," she added.
Hall thinks an emphasis on promoting and showcasing Milwaukee's diversity will also help with talent retention.
"We're not only rebranding for those individuals thinking about coming here, but also for the individuals who are here but right now don't see opportunities, and don't have that hope," she said.
At the Hmong American Friendship Association at 38th & Vliet, workers hope the DNC will also expose visitors to Wisconsin's vibrant Hmong population.
Dawn Yang, general manager of the Nyob Zoo Hmong television program, said Wisconsin boasts the country's third largest Hmong population behind California and Minnesota.
Yang said Wisconsin's Hmong community has been in the United States for roughly 40 years.
She said most Hmong-Americans came over to the United States as refugees, after fighting on behalf of the CIA in the portion of the Vietnam War known as the "Secret War."
According to the 2010 census, Wisconsin is home to roughly 58,000 Hmong people, with 12,000 to 15,000 of them residing in the Milwaukee area.
"There's a lot of exciting things happening in our community," Yang said.
Yang said as Milwaukee rebrands itself during July's DNC, she hopes it will showcase Hmong culture.
She said the large, Asian market on 76th & Mill is somewhere DNC visitors can go to take in Hmong food, clothing and jewelry.
Yang said Hmong leaders are working with the DNC host committee to "highlight some of our businesses and vendors, and also to do outreach to get volunteers."
"This is a great opportunity to showcase what our culture is all about," Yang said.