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Blake Musser, Director of Community Marketing, shares his weekly article about the exciting things he sees happening for Freeport and All In.


This year’s Cruise Night is coming Aug. 12
By Blake Musser
August 1, 2017

Hot rods, rat rods, street rods, muscle cars, antiques, coupes, convertibles, sedans, trucks and station wagons will all be in downtown Freeport on Aug. 12 for this year’s Cruise Night. Diverse car collectors from as many as five states will gather to display their special vehicle and gaze at everyone else’s. It is an experience you won’t want to miss.

In the 1950s and ’60s, as cars became more accessible and powerful, young people became mobile and they gathered downtown and hung out. Later in the night, the traffic lights at each intersection changed to flash. When this happened, cars no longer needed to stop, just briefly pause instead, and the cruising of the circuit began.

Cars would make endless trips throughout downtown from Stephenson to Locust, Locust to Main, Main to Liberty and back to Stephenson. If you have seen the movie “American Graffiti,” you know what I’m talking about.

Almost 40 years ago, a group of local car enthusiasts came together and created a car club called Freeport Street Machines. They would gather downtown to display their cars and hang out. What they didn’t know is that their efforts would create the single biggest event in Freeport attracting as many as 10,000 people on one evening — all to celebrate the car.

Expect to do some walking when you come down on Aug. 12 to Cruise Night. Make sure you bring your camera and lawn chair for the cruise. Cars will be on display in several lots throughout the downtown area including the main lot on Douglas Street, the lots on Stephenson Street, and at the Public Library.

The night begins at 4 p.m. with the opening of the food court so bring your appetite, too. The muffler rapping contest starts at 6 p.m. and burn-out contest is at 7 p.m. These contests are a must-see (and hear)! The cruising also starts at 7 p.m., heading east on Douglas, south on Adams, west on Main and north on Van Buren back to Douglas.

A huge thank you to Brian Borger who has helped with the event for years and helped co-author this week’s column. Also, a thank you to the Freeport Downtown Development Foundation who leads a committee that organizes the event recruiting over 70 volunteers, obtaining sponsors, applying for permits and scheduling the evening events in the yearlong planning process.

If you are interested in helping Cruise Night and would like to volunteer email office@freeportdowntown.com or call 815-232-9000.


Food manufacturing job fair coming to Stephenson County
By Blake Musser
July 25, 2017

There is a major job fair next week in food manufacturing. Six of the food manufacturers in Stephenson County are looking to fill more than 250 open positions. The job fair will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Aug. 2 and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Freeport Public Library, 100 E. Douglas St.

Our community knows that one of our major economic bases is agriculture. What many may not realize is that we also have an extremely strong food manufacturing economy. Until being asked to help promote this job fair, I had no idea this industry was so strong or that it is growing this quickly. Their growth has been so great they are having a hard time filling all of their positions. Berner Food & Beverage, Snak King, Devansoy Inc, CoreFX, Nuestro Queso, Pearl Valley Farms and NIDA are coming together to hold a job fair to help fill these positions.

What I found interesting is how many of these companies produce for major private labels we use every day. I also was surprised at how large these organizations were, and that some of them are headquartered here in Stephenson County. Below is a brief company description and positions they are looking to fill.

Berner Food & Beverage is a leading private label supplier of quality food and beverage products to a majority of top retail chains. It employs more than 500 people and hopes to hire an additional 200.

Snak King is a snack food manufacturer that produces private label products. It employs 450 workers and wants to hire 25 to 30 entry-level packers, skid pullers, general utility laborers and sanitation technicians. It also needs skilled machine and forklift operators, and has one opening for an industrial electrician.

Devansoy Inc. manufactures soy- and plant-based proteins and ships bulk liquid products to packaging facilities throughout the U.S. for major and private label brands. It employs 24 workers and wants to fill six new positions in production and maintenance.

CoreFX is a custom dairy/specialty lipid ingredients manufacturer. It currently employs more than 45 employees and needs to fill nine open positions within production and maintenance.

Nuestro Queso is a specialty cheese manufacturer for Hispanic markets and produces private label products. It currently employs more than 95 people and needs to hire new employees in production, packaging, and maintenance.

Pearl Valley Farms is an egg ranch providing conventional, cage-free, organic and specialty shell, liquid, powdered and whole egg products, and it produces a specialty organic fertilizer. It produces more than two million eggs a day. It currently employs more than 200 people and looks to hire in production, processing, packaging, trucking and administrative departments.

One of the successes of Collaborate Freeport is more people and organizations are coming together in collaboration to tell their stories. Berner Food & Beverage saw the opportunity in collaborating on filling these positions by holding a joint job fair with other local food manufacturers. Thank you to these corporations for helping strengthen our economy and demonstrating an All-In approach.

Please help spread the word.


All In: Get ready for Freeport’s next destination weekend
By Blake Musser
July 18, 2017

I have found my pocket watch and dug out my knitting needles! This weekend will be the first of Collaborate Freeport’s destination weekends. It is clear to us that our community is hosting amazing events and attractions that already make us a destination. We are helping organizations with the promotion of these celebrations. All events have great backstories, excitement and the pull to bring in participants from outside our community.

One of our goals at Collaborate Freeport is to help improve tourism and economic development. When we invite people from outside communities to participate in these events, it illustrates to them that Freeport is a great place to visit and live. It also gives us the chance to have them spend the night in a hotel, eat at local establishments and shop at our great local businesses helping to strengthen our economy.

This Friday, Jeffrey Wall and Dennis Rinkenberger, also known as The Yarn Guys, will show our community’s value of giving back by sponsoring and hosting Freeport’s first Hope-A-Thon. The Halos of Hope-A-Thon participants knit hats for chemotherapy patients across the country. All donations from the event will go toward distributing hats to cancer treatment centers. This unique 24-hour event runs from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Saturday and will be at the Wall of Yarn, 14 W. Stephenson St.

As part of the event, The Yarn Guys will also host the renowned author and knitting expert Franklin Habit, who will lead classes and give a lecture at The Wagner House. For more details, please visit their website. I look forward to supporting this cause and listening to Franklin Habit’s presentation.

The following night, Saturday, marks the return of prohibition. What started last year as an anniversary party for The Wagner House owners, Bill and Stacy Green, quickly grew into a large public event. It was such a hit, they brought it back for a second year and have made it even better!

I attended last year and the party was exciting, interesting and one of the most well-rounded events that I have attended. One of the best parts of this event is that it is interactive. You start in a speakeasy somewhere downtown Freeport, but you constantly need to be on the lookout for the cops and G-men trying to bust up a good party. The night wraps up at The Wagner House with music from The Gatsby Gang. The progressive party begins at 6:30 p.m., with early VIP access starting at 5 p.m.

Guests will receive a text with the first location about a half hour before the event begins. If you have not yet done so, purchase your tickets and 20s attire and prepare to dance the night away.

If these activities are not already in your calendar, please make sure you come out for a great night! Tickets for both Prohibition Freeport and The Gatsby Gang are available on the Wagner House website: wagnerhouseil.com. For more information about Freeport’s Hope-A-Thon, visit halosofhope-a-thon.org.


Going ‘All In’ on a reinvigorated Stephenson County Fair
By Blake Musser
July 11, 2017

The fair is back! When I was growing up, the Stephenson County fair was one of the things I looked forward to the most. It was always a time of great food, fun rides and reconnecting with friends and family.

Each year, my family would gather from all around the county for the fair. I spent hours, and even a few overnights, helping with the animals and enjoying the time I was able to spend with my family.

When my wife and I decided to move back to this community, the fair was a great representation of the charm of Stephenson County. It was the place where you could showcase the best of what you had, meet new and old friends and eat until you popped. A place where you could win a blue ribbon and then go to the grandstand for entertainment.

We were able to bring our kids out to the fair several times this year. Like many, we attended on Thursday for the $5 wristband night, and the kids had a blast getting to ride the kiddie rides. Each day we went, the fairgrounds felt full of people obviously having a good time.

As we walked around the fair, I had the opportunity to talk with many community members. Our conversations usually turned to All In and the work going on within the movement. Almost every person mentioned that they noticed a difference in our sense of community, both at the fair and in general.

As the saying goes, we vote with our feet. When we participate in community events, we give event organizers the financial and moral support to continue expanding, improving and innovating their event. I would encourage anyone wanting to be All In to show your support by attending local events and enjoying the things that Freeport and Stephenson County have to offer.

I would like to give a big thank you to this year’s fair board. An immense amount of hard work and long hours went into reinvigorating the fair. It is clear the attention placed on surveys and community feedback really paid off. From bringing in Gary Allen to making the fair more affordable, the adjustments made by the fair board were appreciated.

In addition, I personally know the return of the rodeo was applauded by my family members who traveled in for the fair. Congratulations on a great foundational year, and I look forward to watching the fair continue to grow in the years to come.

I am sure I can speak for the fair board by extending a BIG thank you to everyone who came out this year to the fair. I hope to see even more of you next year, and I look forward to running into you at many of the other exciting events coming up before then.


All In: Upcoming weekends in Freeport hold activities for tourists, locals
By Blake Musser
July 4, 2017

We sometimes believe we have to travel to see and experience something.

For several years prior to moving back home to Freeport, my wife and I lived in Washington, D.C. When we first moved there, we spent every spare moment exploring. As time passed, we were often amused (and a little embarrassed) that the only time we went out to the museums, memorials or the other culturally enriching events was when friends and family visited.

For us, the trick is to remember to participate. To jump in the car or simply walk down the block and just go. Adding children to our family (currently, we have two under the age of 4) has helped us experience our area with a fresh set of eyes.

We explored our history at the Stephenson County Historical Society’s Taylor Mansion, enjoyed an outdoor experience at Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Park and appreciated our community’s commitment to the arts at our amazing Freeport Art Museum. With or without kids, these stops and excursions have a lot to offer.

In each of the next three months, Collaborate Freeport has identified a local destination weekend: a weekend full of events and activities that are both great for bringing in tourists and exciting for locals. We have made it our mission to spread the word about these weekends and enable people to take advantage of the great happenings right here.

They include:

July 21-22: Halo’s of Hope Knit-a-Thon and Prohibition Freeport.

Aug. 12: Cruise Night.

Sept. 15-16: Paint the Port, Tour de Freeport, Brewfest and Paddle the Pec.

In addition to these destination weekends, local events and activities are being held all the time. This weekend, Freeport’s talented George Buss and Tim Connors will portray Lincoln and Douglas. At 1 p.m. Saturday at Debate Square (next to the Union Dairy) in Freeport, they will discuss unanswered questions that have remained hidden in history. Afterward, they will continue the conversation, in character, at The Wagner House.

Put these events on your calendar now, and let’s start seeing the amazing things right here in our backyard. I’ll be at each of these events. Stop me and say hello.


All In: Collaborate Freeport sees many who are ‘All In.’
By Blake Musser
June 27, 2017

As the new community marketing director for Collaborate Freeport, I have had the pleasure of meeting with many folks the past few months.

Last week, I spoke with two entrepreneurs who will be opening businesses in Freeport in 2017. Personally, nothing is more exciting to me than listening to someone who is knowledgeable and passionate talk about his or her dreams.

More people are talking about investing and are actually doing so than ever before. We have new leaders in both public and nonprofit organizations who are interested in moving our community forward. We have new businesses establishing themselves, old businesses moving back and several businesses that are expanding.

In short, Freeport’s moving from “Freeport good” to “Wow.”

As a Freeport native, I am very passionate about the city of Freeport and Stephenson County. I have been given the opportunity to contribute a weekly article to The Journal Standard regarding “All In” and the Collaborate Freeport movement.

We plan to use this space to talk about the organization and its direction, stories about people and organizations that are helping move our community forward and ways you can help make this community stronger. We still have plenty of issues to resolve, but I hope you join me in taking a moment to acknowledge that we are moving forward.

The Collaborate Freeport movement formed as a group of private citizens who wanted to celebrate the reasons to live, work and play in our community. They recognized that we do have challenges, but part of addressing challenges is reminding ourselves there is a reason we love living here. They saw the need to tell our story in a different way, both to ourselves and outside the community. They saw that we need to work together to brand and market the Freeport region to improve our economic development, enhance tourism and build a stronger sense of community in Stephenson County.

Recently, Collaborate Freeport launched “All In,” a brand for our community. Within the community, “Freeport. All In.” means working together toward the shared goal of creating a more vibrant, healthy and engaged community.

Outside the community, “All In Freeport” sends the message that Freeport has everything you need for a day trip, a weekend getaway or a new hometown, including affordable housing, great restaurants, beautiful parks, outdoor recreation, a distinctive history and one-of-a-kind events. Using this brand, we are telling our stories and reminding ourselves that we do have an amazing community.

As many joke, “I was ‘All In’ before it was cool.” It is true; there are many individuals and organizations that have been “All In” for many many years. Your efforts and kindness have given this community the ability to grow from here. Thank you to all of you.