June 30, 2017
How the people of Red Wing, Minnesota, embraced a revolution and started a movement
After receiving 14,000 nominations for towns to put in the spotlight during season two of “Small Business Revolution,” we hit the road to visit eight inspiring towns that made our short list of potential finalists. Throughout summer, we’re looking back and sharing the stories of what made each town special – including guest posts from local leaders and some profiles of businesses in these communities. This is the third post, written by Cameron Potts of Deluxe, in our weeklong focus on Red Wing, Minnesota.
Being the only person in the know can be fun, exhilarating even. Except when you are the one person out of 600+ gathered for an announcement and you know bad news is coming.
On Feb. 22, I traveled to Red Wing, Minnesota, a beautiful, quaint community tucked into the bluffs bordering Wisconsin, knowing that I would not be enduring perhaps the most fun day of my career. I was going to be met with sadness, disappointment, regret and perhaps, yes, a little animosity. Curiously enough, despite my own angst, this WAS perhaps one of the best days of my career.
After 14,000 nominations from more than 3,500 towns across the country, Deluxe Corporation was ready to announce the winner of our Small Business Revolution season two contest. From all those nominations, five remained, and Red Wing stood on the cusp of winning the $500,000 prize and inclusion in an eight-part online series.
The anticipation in town was palpable. It was an impossibly warm and beautiful February winter day, with temperatures soaring into the 60s. Arriving in town, I could see the Fire Department ladder truck hoisting the American flag in front of the Sheldon Theatre, where the announcement would be played live. In front was the high school band and cheerleaders and hundreds of folks ready to celebrate. And then there was me, the only person in the know.
Nearly 1 million votes streamed in, an incredible number representing the five communities of Red Wing; Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania; Kingsburg, California; North Adams, Massachusetts; and, Georgetown, South Carolina. Red Wing and Bristol remained near the top of the standings the entire week of voting, with Bristol edging Red Wing out in the end.
Since each of the towns had done so much work to promote their communities and share their stories on social media and in traditional media outlets, we asked them to gather for the announcement of the winning town. Red Wing rightfully felt good about their chances, since they were in the lead going into the final day. The Sheldon Theatre was packed to the 480-person capacity, with another 100 people outside and more still in other venues near their downtown.
They cheered and laughed and sang and praised their community, as they should. Small towns have a special place in the hearts of their residents. You tend to be closer to your neighbors, to your high school, to your elected officials. You feel more ownership in your downtown. Red Wing buzzed and then when the announcement was made, they faltered, but only for a second.
My heart sank for Red Wing not because I wanted them to win. This was a contest and I didn’t have a dog in this fight. No, my heart sank because they had tried so hard and like any of the towns we featured, they were deserving. Yet immediately, they bounced back. Civic and business leaders shared how proud they are of their community, how incredible everyone was over the week of voting and how this effort brought them together and gave them momentum.
Red Wing was featured in more than 40 news stories, counted millions of social media shares and hundreds of visits to the community during voting week for the Small Business Revolution. More invaluable to the town is the renewed sense of inevitable growth. They started something that they want to see finished, that they know will keep them on the path forward.
Knowing the outcome of the vote in Red Wing Feb. 22 made me think I was coming to share bad news. Instead, this remarkable community reminded me why we started the Small Business Revolution in the first place – this is about starting a movement, to love our small businesses. Red Wing sure does.
In an editorial on Feb. 27, the Red Wing Republican Eagle summed up the power of a movement: “Coming off the Small Business Revolution, Red Wing could generate another $500,000 and probably more for projects and concepts, for startups and small businesses through which entrepreneurs realize their dreams and provide jobs for fellow residents. Small businesses are the future of the American economy. People and what they can do together are the future of Red Wing.”