Photo: Jeff Silker
Accomplished human resources professional helps New Ulm embrace history as economic engine for retail growth.
If 54-year-old Anne Makepeace of New Ulm were to choose a song to describe her life, The Beatles’ 1967 chart buster Getting Better with the oft-repeated positive line “it’s getting better all the time” surely would be one possibility.
However, more than just making life a little better as the song suggests, she seems on a quest to help make everyone around her, including herself, a lot better. And part of this “making better” includes a list of business-related accomplishments helping transform historic downtown New Ulm and the region.
Beginning in 1978, Makepeace through her work began improving life for others and herself—first, as a Liberty Mutual claims adjuster, and then as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and director, Target Corporation human resources manager and organizational development psychologist, United Way of the Brown County Area executive director, Taylor Corporation director of organizational development & employee services, and currently, New Ulm Medical Center human resources director.
She has been actively involved with New Ulm Retail Development Corporation, New Ulm Heritage Preservation Commission, The Grand Cabaret and Grand Hotel (pictured here), and developing the New Ulm Downtown Historic District. If you haven’t heard, with Makepeace assisting, the city’s downtown has jumped forward the last few years. All her hard work has earned her a seat on the State Review Board of the National Register of Historical Places.
Finally, consider her 2001 move from Minneapolis to New Ulm and her subsequent community involvement came about only because she had become historically interested in her great-great-great grandfather, Phillipp Gross, who in 1856 built New Ulm’s first hotel. Not many southern Minnesotans view history as a robust economic engine, but Anne Makepeace certainly does, through bettering old to create new economic life.
You started out life in Milwaukee. What kind of a family life did you have?
My mother worked full-time as an editor and proofreader at Milwaukee Area Technical College and my father was a teacher and school board president. He was on the school board many years—so education was a big deal in our family. My dad had been a chemical engineer before going back to school to become a chemistry and physics teacher. They also were heavily involved in politics and community-minded. I ended up getting involved in the community because of what my mom and dad did.
What sort of involvement?
I grew up in Shorewood, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee suburb. In high school, for one, there was a program called A Better Chance, which sent minority kids from Cleveland and Jersey City and other cities into our community to attend high school. In part, I helped paint the houses ABC students would live in. My mom and whole family helped. At that time, Shorewood was 100 percent white. My parents were Republicans, had met in the Young Republicans, and were active politically. We kids went door-to-door with them to help candidates running for office. Being involved in community life is what makes me happy and what still makes my mother happy.
You never saw your college campus in-person until setting foot there the first day of class in the mid-’70s. You went to Miami of Ohio. Why there?
My mother’s father had grown up near Cincinnati, in Covington, Kentucky. My mother knew the area and had relatives there. I went sight unseen based on others’ recommendations. It’s a beautiful campus and I had a good education.
In certain respects, moving and going somewhere without seeing it can be an adventure. Not many folks that age would go to a college sight unseen.
I have done a lot of things like that in life. For example, I moved to Minnesota in 1981 for work without knowing anyone here. We had only driven through Minnesota once while on vacation.
After graduating from Miami in 1978, you took on a job that seems totally unrelated to what you’re doing now. This started a string of jobs that seemed unrelated, one leading to the other.
The first was as a claims adjuster for Liberty Mutual Insurance. I later learned theirs was the best training program for claims adjusters in the nation. They sent us to the south side of Chicago to adjust claims where I learned about recorded statements and making decisions about legal liability. It was interesting. I had been a psychology major in college, which helped me understand people better as a claims adjuster. In some cases, I realized the claimants needed much more than financial help. That led me to what I did in my graduate school career.
Vocational rehabilitation counseling. Out of graduate school, I ended up working with worker’s comp clients. As a claims adjuster, I could give people money for their loss, for example, but couldn’t do much more. Vocational rehabilitation counseling was something I could do to help injured people get back to work and I spent seven years in the field from 1981-88.
And that led to something else?
I left rehabilitation counseling as the director of a small private rehabilitation firm. In January 1989, Target hired me as a regional risk manager to coordinate its return-to-work program for 100 stores from Washington to Wisconsin. I trained store-level human resources people how to work with injured workers, taught them about worker’s compensation law, and worked with insurance companies. Target was looking for a person with a background in return-to-work and claims. I traveled a lot and wasn’t married.
What about that job did you like?
Helping people manage their injured workers, such as making accommodations to help make the workers productive again. In this position, I could make a difference in the lives of people and in the stores. With Target, I became the corporate answer person for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Target was great because if you wanted to do part of another job while doing another, you could. I almost never did only one job at Target. As the ADA answer person, I wrote the first booklet for all the store managers on how managers had to treat workers with disabilities and the interview questions they could ask.
You also became a licensed psychologist while at Target.
I had taken most of the coursework already as a rehabilitation counselor. I became a licensed psychologist in part because I wanted a job in leadership training and development that would test employees and help them develop skills and strengths to become better leaders. The window was still open then in Minnesota in which a master’s level person could become a licensed psychologist. I was the psychologist for Target Region 400 and my boss was a PhD psychologist. At the end of my career there, half my job was in leadership training and development and the other half in running a usability center. In that center, I helped devise studies using my psychology background, managed the lab, and brought people in off the street to test everything from new touch screens to the Target website.
Somewhere along the line before moving here in 2001, you became interested in New Ulm.
We first visited in 1993. My great-great-great grandfather built the Grand Hotel in the nineteenth century as New Ulm’s first hotel. I eventually joined the Junior Pioneers, which is a group that includes people with ancestors settling in New Ulm before 1885, and we joined the Historical Society. Then we started coming for Heritagefest and other events. And we just loved it.
Over time, my husband suggested we should move here. But what would we do for work?
Our decision to leave the Cities didn’t happen overnight. Finally, in 2000, we bought the Grand Hotel, which had been my dream. We thought we could stay in the Cities and own and renovate the building from afar, but realized we couldn’t. My husband found a job in New Ulm and we moved here in 2001 without my having a job. After commuting to the Cities for ten months, I left Target in 2002 for a position at Taylor Corporation.
There must have been something strong and compelling about New Ulm that grabbed you and never let you go—for you to move here without work.
When my ancestor moved here in the 1850s, he was 45, which was the same age I was when I moved. When he moved, nothing was here. My thought: If he could move under those circumstances, including bringing a new wife and four children and being an original immigrant, then I could move here without work.
In 2002, you were hired as a human resources director at Taylor Corporation.
I was in the corporate office three years. One area of my responsibility was the employee opinion survey. Ultimately, they had a human resources call-in center and the people working for me took human resources calls and questions from 90 different Taylor companies. I also had training and development responsibilities.
Did Glen Taylor hire you?
No, but I was in the same building as all the senior leaders. He was on the first floor; I was on the second. At one point, he invited me to his office for a “get to know you” session. He asked a couple personal questions and about my being an “Ausländer” in New Ulm. He is a very nice man and very easy to talk to. He is good one-on-one and seems genuinely caring. In our conversation, he wanted me to know he cared about the people working there and if I ever had a concern about how the company treated its people that I wouldn’t hesitate making that known. He wanted me to know the people working there were near and dear to his heart.
But you left.
I left because I wanted to live and work in New Ulm. I had commuted for years in and to the Twin Cities and didn’t want to drive to North Mankato anymore. So I started looking and applied to be director of the United Way of New Ulm.
Stop a second. You moved to New Ulm in 2001. In 2005, you became director of the United Way there after living there only four years. The people hiring you took quite a risk hiring a person relatively new to town.
They did take a risk. And I wasn’t from New Ulm. The issue for me was I had to take a big pay cut. Eventually, I said I would take whatever they thought fair because I really wanted the job.
It’s one thing being a claims adjuster, a vocational rehab counselor, and a Target psychologist—and having those job responsibilities. It’s another having a job where your chief role is to raise money. Did you feel out of your element?
That was what scared me most about that job. They were raising more than $300,000 a year and I had no idea how. Fortunately, my board had 25 people with community connections. The director didn’t have to do all the fundraising. I had lots of help.
But you did have some accounts. And you had been in town only four years. Did you find it difficult asking for money?
It’s not easy, but I had my speech down pat and believed in what the United Way was doing. Many of these people I called on were long-time givers, although I did some cold calling. We expanded United Way throughout Brown County when I was there, which was difficult and meant cold calling into Sleepy Eye and Springfield. Chuck Spaeth, the Ford dealer, helped in Sleepy Eye.
After a few years there, you probably knew New Ulm better than 95 percent of the residents.
True and I loved that job. But I’ve never had a job I didn’t like. (Laughter.) Every day I was doing something good raising money for good causes.
I bet your mother, who has always been active in the community, was proud of you.
Yeah, she is. She said to me over Christmas, “You’re a lot like me.” (Laughter.) I told her she should slow down a little because she is almost 80. She is more involved now in the community than ever.
While working as United Way director, I had more time to do other things because I was in town and didn’t have to commute. I was asked to join the Heritage Preservation Commission because our family had bought a historic home and a historic building on the National Register. In renovating it, I learned about preservation. My next-door neighbor was chair of the Heritage Preservation Commission and he suggested I join. Right away, I started attending national conferences on historic preservation. New Ulm has so much history on which to capitalize. I worked with Dan Hoisington, who authored a book on New Ulm history.
What has the Heritage Preservation Committee done?
We received a special designation that came out of the Bush Administration allowing us to apply for a Preserve America’s Cities grant and we have received grants from the State Historical Preservation Office. With the grants, we placed new banners and signage downtown, historical markers on many buildings, and produced a downtown “walking” brochure. We were trying to raise awareness of downtown as not dead, but living, history.
Did local businesses buck being part of a Historic District?
At first, some were upset because we have a historic preservation ordinance saying you can’t have certain kinds of signs and can paint your buildings only certain colors. There was a huge discussion about what could be done downtown and whether everything would have to be scrutinized. We realized it would have been hard on small businesses to pay for this on their own and so we have a signage and awning program to soften the blow. Yes, a business has to bring their signs to us for approval, but we will give them 50 percent of up to $2,000 to pay for it. The argument from a historical preservation perspective is that by getting downtown looking better everyone benefits. Business people understand that—and available money to pay for signage helps.
What about New Ulm Retail Development Corporation?
The idea came out of community groups called Ach Ya I and Ach Ya II. I was asked to join because of being on the Heritage Preservation Commission. NURDC has applied to become a Main Street organization, which is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Edit. note: New Ulm was accepted into this program on January 31.) NURDC is doing more holistic work than just filling empty buildings. Its purpose is recruiting and retaining retail and the way to do it is through promotion of downtown and tourism.
How do you measure its success? Do you struggle doing that?
Main Street requires you to measure how many businesses you are adding. So you need a baseline. But many businesses have upstairs apartments, for example, and when you put in apartments, what does that do for business cash flow? And how do you define success in a downtown retail district? Yes, it’s a struggle defining success, but I can tell you that three years ago downtown had many vacancies and today there are virtually none. One thing we initiated was Head Start to the Heart of the City, which is a package of incentives for business owners wanting to start a business here. It includes banking information, promotions—there is quite a bit we give to people coming here to help them get started.
Sort of like a Welcome Wagon for business.
Yes. We actively market it. And the fact we have a director who can actually be there to answer potential business owners’ questions makes a huge difference in recruiting. We didn’t have that before. It used to be business owners would have to go to the City and do their own footwork. For a new business owner from the outside, we now have a one-stop shop.
What plans do you have for the Grand Hotel?
We renovated the first floor seven years ago and rented out one side on the first floor. Then some friends of ours wanted to display art there. Then a classical guitarist coming to town contacted us looking for a place to play. So we began building relationships with musicians in town and across the state and brought them in once a month. But people wanted more. Last February, we decided to be open on Friday and Saturday nights for weekly music and entertainment. It’s called The Grand Kabaret. The plan is to turn the second and third floors into a community arts and cultural center. More than a year ago, we had a public meeting and formed a nonprofit board of seven people. We applied for nonprofit status for the building to create The Grand Center for Arts and Culture and expect to hear about our exempt status any day.
Where you would own the building and the nonprofit would rent from you?
Well, that’s what we thought at first. But the IRS said no. They said you couldn’t use nonprofit money if you own the building. So I think my family will eventually donate the building to the nonprofit in order to attract money to develop the space as a nonprofit center. We will need community financial support. This can’t be a community arts center without the community involved.
But why that type of use and not something else? That building could be used many different ways.
Over the years, it has become obvious that what we wanted for that building was a public purpose. Yes, we could rent it for office space. But what would be the point? We don’t want to own the building so we can rent to a business in it. What we want is to have a community asset. In life one thing leads to another and in the last year it has become clear to us this music, arts, and cultural usage is the public purpose.
One of your daughters while in high school not long ago won one of only three Service Above Self Awards handed out locally. Just like you are a lot like your mom, are you passing on to your daughters the same priorities?
I hope so—with both daughters. Our oldest is in college. In her pre-orientation program she went into the city of St. Louis to work with poor families. Many of the groups she has joined in college are service-related. She has organized fundraising projects already and been in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for organizing a charitable event.
I can sense through your eyes and voice, you are getting emotional talking about your daughter.
Yeah, yeah. (Laughter.) What in your life do you want more but for your children to find some kind of purpose and meaning? To me, the fact she is doing those things is wonderful. She is learning you feel good becoming involved in community and following your passion. I’m happy for her. (Long pause while she reaches for a facial tissue.)
New Ulm Medical Center: What is it like working for your boss?
Lori Wightman isn’t here anymore. She just became president of Unity Hospital in Fridley, which is also part of the Allina system. Toby Freier started January 1, 2011. He was our assistant administrator the last five years and he is going to be fabulous. He’s extremely smart, has a lot of heart and is focused on what the medical center needs. He emphasizes putting the patient first. He is an incredibly hard worker and somebody you can look up to, which is important in a boss. I feel I can trust him. He will be great.
Changes in healthcare are up in the air now. We have a new Congress. How do you see healthcare change eventually affecting what you do?
I don’t completely understand all of what healthcare reform may bring and don’t know many people who do. For New Ulm Medical Center, there are now things that relate to how we get paid for services we provide that could over time really affect how we do business. One thing on our plate as a senior leadership team—and what Toby Freier has been discussing—is trying to figure out what will be happening so we can position ourselves for the future. I think we are already positioned well, but there is much work ahead so we aren’t caught as changes come.
What would be an example of being caught?
Just in how we get paid for services. For example, if we are paid for patient outcomes at some point—that will be a whole different way of operating.
As opposed to now where you get paid for a service no matter whether the patient has a positive or poor outcome?
Right. The outcome payments will come. That will create a very different industry.
I assume the thinking behind an insurer paying only for outcomes would be to cut out what could be perceived as unnecessary operations and procedures.
It’s to remove variability from the system, to make sure best practices are used and applied, and to make sure you don’t have one hospital doing all kinds of extra procedures and testing that aren’t making a difference. You want to take out some of that variation. It lowers costs and improves outcomes.
I would guess this paying for outcomes would affect you. Because if there are certain areas of New Ulm Medical Center that get much of its income from what someone could determine was non-best practice procedures, then you could be hiring less in that area.
Yes. And we are very stable in terms of our employee population, which stands at about 500. In terms of NUMC, we have figured out ways to move people around in order to avoid the layoffs many other medical centers have had. Mankato has seen quite a bit. We really haven’t seen that here, NUMC has done a good job keeping employees. For example, when we started the Heart of New Ulm, we looked at other people internally to fill those new spots.
What is the next thing for you?
You like to grow personally, in terms of knowledge and your horizons.
First of all, I’ve been here only two years. I feel like I’m still learning every day. There are some jobs you could probably learn most everything in the first year or two, and then not a whole lot more and be ready to move on. This isn’t one of those jobs. Some people have been at New Ulm Medical Center 35-40 years, and there is a lot of history here, and many new things coming.
But what about moving on to other things avocationally?
In terms of that, we will be getting The Grand Center for Arts and Culture off the ground in our spare time over the next several years. If New Ulm gets a Main Street Community designation, I want to stay involved with that. We will be able to get resources and support from the national organization.
It seems New Ulm is far ahead of other towns in our reading area in terms of developing its downtown business district. For example, you have a full-time person just handling retail development. I can’t think of another town with a Historic Preservation District. You have packets for potential business people.
There are a lot of people involved. Mary Ellen Domeier has been NURDC chair, and others helping have included Brian Tohal with New Ulm Economic Development, the Chamber of Commerce’s Sharon Weinkauf, the City of New Ulm, historian Dan Hoisington, and many others.
As people with direct ties to Germany pass on and New Ulm over time becomes less “German,” will its German identity fade away? Are people worried?
That’s been discussed. The last time we evaluated our logo and the city sign on the edge of town, that topic was brought up. People discussed whether we should have “Auf Wiedersehen” on the sign and whether our logo should include “Hermann” or be beer-related. There are several factions in town. I don’t believe that question has been settled. Some people think we need to look forward and embrace the Germany of today rather than of yesterday. There is another group very grounded in what we have.
But the ties to the German heritage drive tourism.
In the end, the last couple times we had this discussion, the community decided we needed to keep that strong German identity. But the question is, does it need to be grounded in old Germany or could it be a more modern?
Can an Ausländer succeed in New Ulm? Glen Taylor asked you that question.
Yes, but it takes being involved. If you get involved in the community, the people here embrace you. New Ulm is a great place. I’ve never lived in a town like this. This has been amazing. I have never felt not accepted. Of course, I did have an ancestor from here. (Laughter.)
Getting to know you: Anne Makepeace
Born: February 6, 1956, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Education: Miami (Ohio) 1978, B.A., psychology; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1981, M.S., educational psychology.
Licenses/certifications: licensed psychologist (Minnesota); Senior Professional Human Resources certification; Certified Rehabilitation Counselor; certificate in Volunteer Leadership from the Minnesota Association of Volunteer Administrators.
Personal: Husband, John; children Tessa and Kate.
Organization involvement: State Review Board of National Register of Historical Places; Turner Hall board; New Ulm Retail Development Corporation board; New Ulm Heritage Preservation Commission, New Ulm Rotary, and Bank Midwest Community Advisory Board.
CONNECT: When you have hired someone at New Ulm Medical Center or in the past at Taylor Corporation, what have you looked for in an employee?
MAKEPEACE: I personally don’t do much hiring now. But my philosophy is that people don’t make many mistakes in their careers. As evidenced by my own career, I look for transferable skills, hard workers, and someone willing to learn with a positive attitude. Obviously, in a healthcare setting, skills are primary. You can’t be a nurse without being credentialed.
CONNECT: When people come in and you are trying to gauge attitude, what are some things your department looks for or are tip offs to whether a person has the right attitude?
MAKEPEACE: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. I ask questions based on what people did or how they reacted in certain situations. I ask for examples. I ask about interpersonal relationships on past jobs and how they got along with their supervisor and other workers. That tells you a lot about their attitude. I ask about what problems they had and how they dealt with them in the workplace.