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First Impressions Program

Source: Waterford, WI 2009 Exchange Team



All too often people and organizations say – and may honestly believe – that they want to improve. But they go about it the wrong way. Too much self-evaluation and too little outside evaluation may mask real problems and opportunities. First Impressions offers an inexpensive way of determining what visitors think of your community. Volunteers from two somewhat similar communities (size, location, county seat, etc.) agree to do unannounced exchange visits and then report on their findings. Participants became “secret shoppers” for the day to discover what they can about their sister city. Team members follow procedures and reporting guidelines in a fully developed manual, which is copied for each participant. The manual helps insure that the evaluations and final reports are thorough and somewhat uniform and minimize the training of volunteers. The final report provides an outsiders perspective of your community as it might be perceived by a prospective business, potential resident, or tourist.

Notice: The First Impressions materials were edited and reformatted in 2007.  PDF versions of these materials are available by request free of charge.  Please contact:

610 Langdon Street Room 336
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 265-8136
FAX: (608) 263-4999
TTY: 1-800-947-3529

This community improvement program, which emerged in 1991, represents a compilation of ideas, experiences and thoughts of two people who focused on improving the communities of Grant County Wisconsin.

Since that time, it has been used by hundreds of communities in the U.S. and Canada as a tool for assessing the perceptions of visitors.

The final reports serve as a basis for community action and provide a “snap-shot” of the community at a specific point in time. These recorded assessments can be an outstanding way to measure progress within a community.

For options including assistance from the Center for Community Economic Development, please review the revised Site Coordinator’s Guide.

Source: Alma, WI 2009 Exchange Team

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Sample Community PowerPoint Presentations

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List and Final Reports of Participating Communities  

Past reports from the First Impressions program can serve as a useful tool for measuring progress within a community and to assess whether or not progress is being made. Communities could also benefit from the experiences of other communities participating in the program. Because leadership within communities is constantly changing, this section of the web site is used as a depository for First Impressions reports. If a community is not listed as a past participant but has participated, please send the report to to the address below and it will be added to this web site. An electronic version of the document that would be best. However, if only a hard copy is available, send the print version, and the document will be scanned and uploaded. Reports can be emailed to or mailed to:

Center for Community Economic Development
University of Wisconsin Extension
610 Langdon Street
Room 328
Madison, WI 53703

To get a sense of what the final report should look like (that uses the template in the Users Guide), refer to the Cable, Wisconsin report, Merrill, Wisconsin report, or  Antigo, Wisconsin report (This report uses the new format and incorporates some photos). Recently (2007), the communities of  LaCrosse, Wisconsin and Oshkosh, Wisconsin did an exchange. Prior to this exchange, there had not been an exchange done between communities exceeding 50,000 in population.

To view a copy of the report simply click on the community name below. If there is not a hyperlink on the community name, it means that a copy of the report was never forwarded. The archived reports are available in Adobe Acrobat “pdf” form and require the free Adobe Acrobat viewer. The quality of the files varies due to the fact that most of the reports were created by scanning a print copy of the report.  Following the scan, the images were edited using character recognition software so that the text of the report would be searchable (use the binoculars icon within the Acrobat Reader software to search a report by a keyword). In some instances the OCR software was unable to recognize text and converted text incorrectly.

As noted in the First Impressions Users guide, the final reports simply record the reactions and thoughts of a few visitors. The reports are not intended to be an objective review of communities….that’s not the intent of the program. While the comments are subjective in nature, these reports capture perspectives on a community at a specific point in time. These reports might assist communities interested in gauging progress on a number of community development issues.


Almena, Wisconsin

Amherst, Wisconsin




Arlington, Minnesota

Ashland, Wisconsin

Atchison, Kansas


Baraboo,Wisconsin #2

Barron, Wisconsin

Barron, Wisconsin #2

Beaver Dam, Wisconsin

Bellevue, Iowa

Belmont, Wisconsin

Benton, Wisconsin

Berlin, Wisconsin

Black River Falls, Wisconsin

Blanchardville, Wisconsin

Bloomer, Wisconsin

Bloomington, Wisconsin

Boscobel, Wisconsin

Boscobel, Wisconsin #2

Boscobel, Wisconsin #3

Brillion, Wisconsin

Broadhead, Wisconsin

Burlington, Wisconsin

Cabin Creek, West Virginia

Cable, Wisconsin

Caldwell, Ohio

Campbellsport, Wisconsin

Cambridge, Wisconsin

Cashton, Wisconsin

Cassville, Wisconsin

Centerville, Wisconsin

Chetek, Wisconsin

Chilton, Wisconsin

Clinton, Wisconsin

Clinton, Illinois

Cokato, Minnesota

Columbus, Wisconsin

Columbus Junction, Iowa

Cowen/Camden-on-Gauley, West Virginia

Crandon, Wisconsin

Cresco, Iowa

Cuba City, Wisconsin

Cuba City, Wisconsin #2

Darlington, Wisconsin

DeWitt, Iowa

Eagle River, Wisconsin

Edgerton, Wisconsin

Elkhorn, Wisconsin

Elkins, West Virginia

Ellsworth, Wisconsin

Elroy, Wisconsin

Evansville, Wisconsin

Fennimore, Wisconsin

Fennimore, Wisconsin #2

Fennimore, Wisconsin #3

Fennimore, Wisconsin #4

Fertile, Minnesota

Florence, Wisconsin

Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

Fountain, Minnesota

Fulton, Illinois

Genoa City, Wisconsin



 Back to TopGlenville, West VirginiaGrafton, WisconsinGrantsburg, Wisconsin

Grantsvill, West Virginia

Green Lake, Wisconsin

Greenville, Maine

Guttenberg, Iowa

Hallock, Minnesota

Hartland, Minnesota

Harts, West Virginia,

Harvard, Illinois

Heritage First, Wisconsin

Hinton, West Virginia

Holmen, Wisconsin

Horicon, Wisconsin

Hurley, Wisconsin

Hurricane, West Virginia

Iron Heritage, Wisconsin

Jefferson, Wisconsin

Kaukauna, Wisconsin

Kendall, Wisconsin

Keokuk, Iowa

Kewaunee, Wisconsin

Kewaunee, Illinois

LaCrosse, Wisconsin

Lac Du Flambeau, Wisconsin

Ladysmith, Wisconsin

Lake Mills, Wisconsin

Lancaster, Wisconsin

Lancaster, Wisconsin #2

Lancaster, Wisconsin #3

Lena, Illinois

Liberal, Kansas

Livingston, Wisconsin

Logan, West Virginia

Lyndon Station, Wisconsin,

Martinsburg, West Virginia

Mauston, Wisconsin

Mauston, Wisconsin #2

Mayville, Wisconsin

Mendota, Illinois

Menominee, Wisconsin

Mercer, Wisconsin

Merrill, Wisconsin

Middleton, Wisconsin

Milton, Wisconsin

Montfort, Wisconsin

Monticello, Wisconsin

Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin

Muscoda, Wisconsin

Necedah, Wisconsin

New Glarus, Wisconsin

New Holstein, Wisconsin

New Lisbon, Wisconsin

New London, Wisconsin

Norwalk, Wisconsin

Oelwein, Iowa

Omro, Wisconsin

Onalaska, Wisconsin

Oregon, Illinois,

Oregon, Wisconsin

Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Phillips, Wisconsin

Phillips, Wisconsin #2

Plain, Wisconsin

Platteville, Wisconsin

Plover, Wisconsin

Plymouth, Wisconsin

Polo, IllinoisPortage, WisconsinPotosi/Tennyson, WisconsinPotosi/Tennyson, Wisconsin #2

Pynette, Wisconsin

Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin

Prescott, Wisconsin

Preston, Iowa

Princeton, Illinois

Random Lake, Wisconsin

Reedsburg, Wisconsin

Reinbeck, Iowa

Rhinelander, Wisconsin

Rhinelander, Wisconsin #2

Rice Lake, Wisconsin

Richland Center, Wisconsin

Richwood, West Virginia

Rio, Wisconsin

Ripon, Wisconsin

River Falls, Wisconsin

Rochelle, Illinois

Rupert, West Virginia

Salem, Illinois

Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin

Seymour, Wisconsin

Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin

Shell Lake, Wisconsin

Shullsburg, Wisconsin

Sigourney, Iowa

Sister Bay, Wisconsin

Sisterville, West Virginia

Sparta, Wisconsin

Spencer, West Virginia

Spooner, Wisconsin

Spring Green, Wisconsin

St. Mary’s, West Virginia

Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Stoughton, Wisconsin

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

Teas Valley Area, West Virginia

Terra Alta, West Virginia

Tomah, Wisconsin

Tomah, Wisconsin #2

Trempealeau, Wisconsin

Washburn, Wisconsin

Waterford, Wisconsin

Waterloo, Wisconsin

Waupaca, Wisconsin

Waupun, Wisconsin

Wausau, Wisconsin

Wautoma, Wisconsin

Wautoma, Wisconsin

Wayne, West Virginia

Webster, Wisconsin

Weirton, West Virginia

Westfield, Wisconsin

West Side Charleston, West Virginia

Whitehall, Wisconsin

Whitewater, Wisconsin

Wittenberg, Wisconsin

Wonewoc, Wisconsin



Marketing Materials

These materials could be used to introduce a community to the First Impressions Program

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Adaptations of the Program

The notion of using the “secret shopper” approach to evaluating communities has gotten a number of people excited about using this same approach in other settings. Others have chosen to make modifications to the program for use with their own communities.

First Impressions of the U.W. Extension Office - Andy Lewis (2002)  (html web-page version only)

Source: Woodworking at Price County Fair, WI 2008 Exchange Team

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This material was prepared by Andy Lewis