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People who make a difference – Ron Franklin

Mentor, volunteer, board member, entrepreneur – Small Business Survival Alliance, Giving is Good, WI CASA, St. Mark Lutheran

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May 17, 2023

lKgkF8ARTqoGREEN BAY – “People need to be a little nicer to each other, have a little more compassion and a little more understanding” – those are words Ron Franklin, the director of entrepreneurship for the Greater Green Bay Chamber, said he lives by every day.

“I believe whatever you give, you get in return – and you should be giving more than you’re taking,” he said. “Being able to help people, I have the ability to do that, and I will do that until the day I die.”

Jumping the pond
The Australian native found himself in the U.S., and Wisconsin in particular, after meeting his now wife in college.

“I went to the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, where my now wife did a semester abroad from St. Norbert,” he said. “She was roommates with my best friend, and then we started dating while she was over there. She came back Dec. 1, I surprised her (with a visit) on Christmas Eve, we got engaged on New Year’s Day and then three years later, got married.”

After finishing up college at St. Norbert College after moving to the United States, Franklin said he jumped head first into his career – starting out as an education business manager at Coca-Cola in Milwaukee.

After three years there and another three with Campbell’s Soup – this time in California – Franklin said he and his wife made the decision to return to Northeast Wisconsin.

“We did not like California at all – very expensive place to live and just not the Midwest, that’s for sure,” he said. “So, we moved back a year and one day after being out there because my contract was for a year with that role, and I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’”
Returning to Wisconsin, Franklin took a job overseeing the virtual reality teams at Kimberly Clark.

After about a year with Kimberly Clark, he said he was approached by Polaris to work in the motorcycle division.

“I’m a huge motorcycle fan,” he said. “I’ve been riding for most of my life. So, I jumped at that opportunity with both hands and both feet – I wanted to hit the ground running on that one.”

However, after getting into an accident that caused a hairline fracture in his neck and spine, Franklin said the traveling the job required was just not possible anymore.

“I was traveling about 30 weeks out of the year, and I couldn’t do it anymore with the pain,” he said.

After working for a few other places in the Northeast Wisconsin area, Franklin said he stumbled across the job with the Greater Green Bay Chamber, which he said was a perfect fit for his entrepreneurial background.

Many of the organizations Ron Franklin, center, volunteers with are ones that he found out about through his work at the Startup Hub. Submitted Photo

“I have a vast amount of entrepreneurship experience – it’s in my blood,” he said. “My wife hates it because I always thought, ‘we could do this, or what about this or how about that sort of thing?’ So, there were a lot of different entrepreneurial things going through my brain all the time.”

Giving grace
Franklin said over the years, the skills he has obtained through work and his own entrepreneurial efforts in the automotive industry, have been the means to how he has been able to give back to the community.

“Whether that’s someone on the side of the road broken down – I know cars, if I know I can help them, I’ll stop and help them,” he said. “If someone’s hurt or injured, it’s human nature to help them.”

Franklin said, unfortunately, in today’s society, especially in the last three years, “people don’t care anymore.”

“It’s a sad world we’re in,” he said. “Regardless of who it is – Why do you have the right to treat that person negatively? Because of color, dress or whatever it is – what gives you the right to impact negative feelings on that person?”

Franklin said no one knows what another person is going through.

“You don’t know why that person is sitting over there crying on a bench,” he said. “Did they just lose their child? Did their marriage break up? Maybe they’re having a really bad day – everything’s gone wrong, and they just need to vent. You have no right to judge that person.”

Franklin said it has always been important to him to show everyone kindness and grace.

“I feel like humans are not doing that anymore,” he said. “They are treating people through the world of the internet, through the world of social media – saying things they would never say to a person’s face… We shouldn’t be where we are. People need to pull their heads out of their phones and see people for who they really are.”

Using your unique skill set
Franklin said each person has their own set of skills – talents unique to them.

Regardless of what it is, he said utilizing “your God-given skill set and helping people should be what the world is all about.”

“I know the business side of things, which is how I give back,” he said. “Maybe it’s cooking. Maybe your skill set is you’re a really good cook. Do you know how many people go without meals on a daily basis? Or get involved with a church. Most churches have people who are either in hospital and or having babies – you could make meals for them.”

Franklin said, whatever the skill, there are many nonprofits throughout Northeast Wisconsin that are “crying for help.”

“If people are just willing to put up their hand and say, ‘I could try that. I’ve never done it before, but why not?’” he said.

Specific focuses
As mentioned, much of Franklin’s volunteer work centers around the realm of business.

One of the most recent organizations he’s worked with is the Small Business Survival Alliance – a local nonprofit that provides resources to help small businesses survive everyday challenges. 

Ron Franklin, front, said helping business owners realize they aren’t alone is very rewarding. Submitted Photo

“I’m on the board – I was a founding board member…,” he said. “The concept is making sure that when a small business needs help, we have the resources available to be able to connect them where they need to go and be successful. It is fairly new. I believe it’s about six months old, but I helped Anna (Steinfest) formulate the nonprofit.”

Franklin said he believes any business can be successful, given the right support.

“I truly believe businesses fail because entrepreneurs can’t get out of their own way,” he said. “And I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. They’re not, ‘I’m better than you or I know better than you.’ They are either too scared to ask for help, don’t know who to ask for help or don’t know the help is out there. So they think they are going alone.”

Being a part of the alliance and helping business owners realize they aren’t alone, Franklin said, is very rewarding.

“Helping small businesses realize they can be successful, they can do this, they just need to be willing to ask for help and know where the help is,” he said.

Franklin is also involved with Giving is Good, Inc. – a nonprofit that provides daily use items to those in need, which is actually a tenant of the Startup Hub where Franklin’s office is located.

“I’ve helped funnel resources to them,” he said. “I also find grants for them to be able to apply for. I do more on the business side than the packing side because they have a whole bunch of volunteers that do a lot of the packing. I also find areas for them to store things because they have a lot of things coming in all the time.”

Franklin is also involved with Wisconsin CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) – a volunteer-based nonprofit organization that provides a voice for abused and neglected children – which his wife introduced him to.

“It’s a sad reality that these organizations have to exist,” he said. “I truly believe we need to live in a world where those organizations don’t need to exist. The fact they do is heartbreaking.”

Because of that, Franklin said the organization has always been close to his heart and has done whatever he can to help.

“When I first met Sue (Schwartz) who was running Wisconsin CASA (at the time), we had in-depth discussions hours on end for probably the first few months I was here about their needs, what they were doing, how they’re growing and the number of clients they were servicing,” he said. “That helped solidify that I wanted them to be involved in what they were doing.”

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