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2016 Edition: Top 10 Reasons Why We Love Where We Live

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KzooConnect Top 10 Blogs 2016

We're happy to share this blog by Gretchen Johnson, owner of WordPlay Marketing Communications.

We can't reflect on 2016 without recalling the tragedies that struck our community in February and June. But we can't recall those tragedies without also remembering the singular expression of love and compassion that residents poured forth in the aftermath. This, after all, is a community that turned swampland into the celery producing capital of the world! It's that make-lemonade, can't-hold-us-back, Kalamazoo Strong attitude we celebrate today as we look at 10 More Reasons Why We Love Where We Live!

10. Kalamazoo is all about family

Our moms and dads series highlighted young professionals who are juggling the responsibilities of caring for youngsters while carving out careers. We love these stories. Their experiences will be the childhood memories of a future generation. We also met a young woman working on the other end of the family spectrum, with our aging parents and grandparents. It's comforting to know that there are caring and compassionate people out there to help.

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9. Young professionals are shaping tomorrow

We met so many young professionals with first-time jobs in the region that it's impossible to name them all. Some are fresh out of college and thrilled to discover that our robust economy has great jobs right here. Others came for opportunities that brought them home. Some were drawn here for the first time. We celebrate their talent, ideas and enthusiasm.

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8. It's a great place to run a business

This year, we discovered stories of several entrepreneurs running big companies and small, some new and some established. Each story of business success is as unique as Kalamazoo itself: From a bakery that caters to people with food sensitivities to a coffee rescue van, and from an improvisational group that teaches people to think on their feet, to a company that's connecting the state for success.

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7. Food sustains us in more ways than one

The business of food has been a way of life for our region since the pioneers settled here. From the swampy celery once sold on street corners to the herbs and spices used in pharmaceuticals and food additives, today those traditions continue. Walther Farms sells the local potatoes it grows for potato chips. Green Door Distilling uses local produce to make its signature spirits. And for the startup Season for a Reason, its unique seasonings sells throughout the region to honor the founders' father.

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6. Ours is a community that turned beer into an art form, then made it a thriving industry

Perhaps there is nothing more characteristic of Kalamazoo than our craft beer industry. Artisan in nature, entrepreneurial brewers express their personalities through the innovative use of locally grown ingredients with each signature product different from the next. Launched right here in Kalamazoo just a few decades ago, craft beer is now a $1.85 billion industry for Michigan and boasts more than 7,000 direct and indirect jobs and 200 breweries. This year we met two that call our region home.

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5. We prepare tomorrow's leaders

It’s been said, "We're in this together beats you're on your own every time." In Kalamazoo, students know their community takes those words to heart. From cradle to career, you'll find lots of people and organizations helping shape our next gen leaders. This year we were introduced to a new member of The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo. We heard from Palanca Leadership Executive Director Lisa Palanca about the power of GRIT, and we learned about a program that’s introducing middle school students to career possibilities.

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4. It's a place where dreams come true

We spoke with two professionals this year who say they're living the life they once only dreamed of. Chase Mielke is an award-winning educator, a published writer, and a spit-up cleaning father who blends family and career. Lori Moore is the host of The Lori Moore Show on the CW7. Both share their passion for the region and enthusiasm for their work with everyone they encounter.

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3. Our neighborhoods are awesome

Like most metro areas, Kalamazoo region is made up of small neighborhoods, townships, and villages - the sum total of which is much greater than its parts. Each eclectic place offers its own amenities and personality. This year we discovered Festive West Bed and Breakfest, the latest edition to a string of unique B&B Inn's in Kalamazoo’s downtown Stuart Neighborhood.
We were introduced to all that the Oakland Drive-Winchell neighborhood offers, and we heard about a hip, contemporary restaurant with Vietnamese cuisine that will soon grace Edison Neighborhood's Washington Square.

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2. You'll find lots of fun and interesting things to do here

Our region is rich with high culture, from theatre to music to art hops and art classes. But you'll also find trails to bike or hike and lakes and rivers for water fun. And if you're looking for something more out of the ordinary, you'll find that too! Check out these more unusual activities.

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1. Growing up here often seeds a desire to give back

We met two young professionals this year who were born and raised in Kalamazoo and stayed to pay forward the generosity they received as kids. Kevin Hess is a Kalamazoo Promise scholarship recipient who is now in real estate. Eric Wimbley says his experience as a Pretty Lake camper helped prepare him for life. Now the camp's Executive Director, he's helping the 100-year-old camp for underprivileged youth map out a course for our next generation.

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