Sheboygan Press: Coastal: Kyle Whelton's return to Sheboygan offers endless opportunities
SHEBOYGAN – Kyle Whelton, business systems analyst at Acuity, is busting the myth among some millennials that returning to your hometown to pursue a career after college gives you a black mark.
“There’s a perception out there that coming home to Sheboygan means you’ve failed,” he said. “I have an almost missionary zeal to break this idea.”
He understands the idea’s roots though. When he was younger, Whelton couldn’t wait to leave town for Marquette University, where he graduated with a bachelor of arts in political science and history. He landed his first job in Madison, working for a software developer; when he moved back to town, his friends wondered why.
Why would he return home?
But time away had given Whelton a fresh perspective; energized by the riverfront and downtown revitalization, he sought a way to jump in and participate.
“I realized that Sheboygan had a lot to offer,” he said. “It was ripe for someone my age to make a meaningful impact.”
He started with Coastal, the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce’s group with more than 600 members that serves as a powerful network for the County’s young professionals. During one of Coastal’s Welcome events, Whelton met “a wonderful group of people” who encouraged him to keep participating.
“At its core, Coastal is a network,” Whelton said. “Through it, I’ve been able to connect others who share similar ideas and interests to new opportunities in the community. It can be as easy as an email introduction, but it opens doors.”
Coastal also helped him acclimate to a town that had changed during his absence.
“When I returned, I thought, ‘I’ll be fine; I have plenty of friends here,’” he said. “But it was different. Some friends had left Sheboygan. Others who stayed were getting married and starting families and were at a different stage of life. Coastal gave me a social circle of people going through similar experiences.”
Whelton encouraged two fellow members to assume board positions at local non-profits; he invites others to participate in community initiatives, along with encouraging them to pursue appointments to city commissions and public office, something he’s familiar with.
Soon after joining Coastal, Whelton was elected to the Sheboygan Area School District Board of Education; he is also president of the board of directors of Habitat for Humanity – Lakeside and on the board at the Wisconsin Recovery Community Organization (WIRCO).
“Habitat brings people together in order to build homes, communities and hope,” he said, “while WRCO supports individuals suffering from addiction as well as their families and friends.”
He calls his work at Acuity “exciting.” He participates on cross-departmental teams, working on anything from developing business systems to researching online competitors.
“I have the opportunity to think critically,” Whelton said. “While I see all of the possibilities on a given project, my manager sees the full chess board … our teams work to determine what we can afford and what decisions make the best sense.”
He fills his free time reading, running along Lake Michigan’s shoreline and spending time with his thirteen-month-old niece; seeing the world through her eyes has brought back “wonderful memories of growing up here,” he said.
Whelton wants Sheboygan to be a place young people grow up wanting to return to, and is doing his best to change the way we see our hometown.
“It has so much to offer, and the perception that returning means you failed keeps us from reaching our potential,” he said. “To make it possible, we have to keep people here and encourage newcomers. It starts with changing that perception.”