Hostad and Abston: Aiming to Light Up Milwaukee

Mike Hostad and Ian Abston want to light up Milwaukee and its future.

One way that is so is literal. The two led the Light the Hoan project that, after five years of tenacious effort, brought multi-colored, frequently-changing lighting patterns to the Hoan Bridge at the mouth of Milwaukee’s harbor. The effort was sometimes criticized, but, once the lights went up in 2020, the project was a big hit.

Another way that is so is less literal: The two are leading a new effort called Forward 48 that recruits groups of 48 professionals between ages 25 and 35 and provides them training led by major community figures in what it takes to be leaders.

Hostad and Abson talked about both efforts during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program that was posted on Marquette Law School’s web site on Jan. 13, 2021.

In addition to their work on the Hoan and Forward 48 projects, Hostad works for the Greater Milwaukee Committee on efforts to increase innovation in Milwaukee and Abston, who was co-founder of the Newaukee organization that brings together young professionals, is involved in other innovative efforts of the Hoan Group.

The goals for Forward 48 include giving young professionals paths into community leadership and providing them opportunities to meet and network with others with similar interests and goals.

Abston said that the first group was “fantastically diverse,” while sharing a desire to get involved in addressing Milwaukee’s needs. He said the goals of the effort were no less than “generational succession planning.”

The first Forward 48 class in 2020 included several people from Madison but was primarily made up of Milwaukee area young professionals, generally recruited from businesses. The leaders they learned from included Bud Selig, the Major League Baseball commissioner emeritus; Rich Meeusen, retired CEO of Badger Meter; Thelma Sias, a retired utility executive; and Michael Lovell, president of Marquette University.

Forward 48 is recruiting for a second group of participants for classes beginning in March.

Two participants from the first cohort took part in the “On the Issues” program.

Kristina Bell, diversity and inclusion manager at Johnson Controls, said taking part “was empowering and it was really enlightening.” She said she walked away feeling she was part of something powerful that could change Milwaukee and that participating will have a lasting impact on her. “It restored a lot of faith in the city,” she said.

Jesus Gonzalez, assistant general counsel at Rockwell Automation, said, “For me, Forward 48 was just what the doctor ordered.” It gave him a chance to meet people who shared the desire to get involved in the city’s issues.

Hostad said, “There’s so much passion and good in the next generation of leaders coming into Milwaukee.”  Abston said the hope is that the effort will make the city “more sticky” for young professionals who might consider moving elsewhere.

The two also talked about what they learned from the campaign to light the Hoan. Hostad said, “What I learned about myself was persistence and not giving up on myself.” He said that, overall, they found a tremendous wealth of knowledge among current Milwaukee leaders and a willingness to help.

Abston said that the success of the bridge-lighting drive showed that a great city can accomplish many things. He said that while more serious social problems are urgent to address, lighting the Hoan gave Milwaukee a shot in the arm and cheered people up, especially during pandemic times.

The lighting now is limited to the west side of the bridge, which faces the city. But Hostad and Abston said they hope to add lighting to the east side of the bridge. Now, if they can just find enough donors . . . .

To view the program with Abston and Hostad, click here.





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