(Editor’s note: The following article, featuring alumna Ashley Althoff ’18, was originally written by Willis Patenaude and republished with the permission of North Iowa Times-Clayton County Register.)
“It really stands out from any other town to me and is a gem in Clayton County,” the new Elkader (Iowa) Economic Development and Main Street Elkader Director Ashley Althoff said of the town.
The Clayton County native first fell in love with Elkader as a junior in college at Upper Iowa University, when an internship with Art in the Park brought her to the area. “I automatically felt connected and inspired by it all,” she remembered.
Driven by a list of passions, including the arts, non-profits, grant writing, arts administration, community activism and sustainability, Althoff applied for the position because it encompassed all those passions into a single job and because “it is truly a dream career,” she said.
It’s a career where she can help existing businesses thrive more completely and bring more character into the town. “I believe creating positive and lasting change begins with one small step at a time, and I see the opportunity available in Elkader,” Althoff said.
But this passion isn’t blind; it comes with a wealth of experience. Althoff has a bachelor’s degree in art and a certificate in arts administration. Having spent the last few years working closely with the Art in the Park and Main Street Elkader committees, she is thoroughly familiar with the area and the community.
Althoff has also served with AmeriCorps in Dubuque County, has worked remotely for the Clayton County Energy District as the communications specialist and has extensive experience working with people in a variety of settings.
“I have had many jobs working directly with people, which I feel is the most important experience anyone can have. It is important for me to listen and work to answer questions and offer assistance,” she said.
In fact, it’s this passion and experience that landed Althoff the job.
Elkader Mayor Josh Pope, who was a member of the hiring committee, spoke highly of Althoff. “I was overall impressed with Ashley’s passion for Elkader. She is a go-getter, from my perspective, which is very encouraging. I look forward to working with her and hearing new ideas, introducing her to Elkader’s business owners and working together to keep Elkader the incredible town that it is,” Pope said.
Likewise, Elkader City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert commented on experience being of the utmost importance: “Ashley has a variety of different experiences, all of which provided her skills that fit this position well. One important part of this position is being able to work with a lot of different people and one of her skills seems to be her ability to connect with people easily.”
These talents will serve Althoff well in a position that requires working directly with local businesses and members of the community, along with ensuring the continued success of Main Street Elkader.
The new endeavor is something Althoff finds personally rewarding, especially because it keeps her close to Elkader, a town that “holds a special place” in her heart. Her “get it done” attitude has been received well by the community.
“The most important objective for me is to meet and build relationships with the community members and business owners. I want to find the best opportunities for these individuals and make their ideas and goals a reality. I see the opportunity here because I have lived it and feel the inspiration,” she explained.
When it comes to spurring economic development, Althoff believes Elkader should showcase itself more than it already does. Namely, by promoting the many unique shops and restaurants run by businesspeople who share her innate passion for the community.
To help accomplish this, Althoff would like every business featured on one single platform, which makes it easier for tourists or visitors to see what she described as “the value of living, shopping and taking care of any needs right here in Elkader.”
Althoff knows this task, as with the many others associated with the positions, will be challenging, so she is looking to carry over some of her predecessor’s open-mindedness and is adamant about learning and growing as a person and as a leader to meet the town’s needs. She also hopes to bring a fresh perspective to accomplish the lofty goals and ideas.
“I want everyone to know that I am here to help, and I am ready to take on challenges. I am young, and this may deter some, but I am motivated, experienced and a doer,” she said.
But what are some of those lofty goals and ideas? How will she expand and create growth as it relates to the arts, tourism, local investment and sustainability? One way is to utilize the infrastructure already present by way of the organizations and people connected with the aforementioned qualities.
Althoff believes sustainability is the most important. “Sustainability means everlasting and maintaining life. This happens through economic prosperity and keeping individuals and the environment healthy and fulfilled so people can save money and energy, obtain funds for repairing, restoring and possibly redesigning, and marketing their offerings,” she explained.
Some of that sustainability deals with attracting new businesses. Althoff believes this can be accomplished by receiving grants and awards that showcase businesses.
“I want to attract businesses that are intentional toward supporting local, that bring health and happiness to the community and can bring something unique that continues the character of Elkader,” she said.
Speaking to this issue, Cowsert said, “For any of us working in a rural community, sustaining the community is always on our mind. But it encompasses so many different issues that it can be hard to wrap your brain around it. So, to find a young person who is not only interested but seems passionate about helping figure out the answer to sustaining a rural community is really exciting and gratifying.”
The new job comes with pressure to succeed, but it seems Althoff is well equipped and positioned to manage it and bring the best out of Elkader.
“I truly believe our county has amazing land, people and organizations that are setting positive examples for other areas near and far,” she said.
The job and Althoff’s efforts begin Dec. 7.