These are changing times for the Clinton, Iowa, business community. One of those changes came on Thursday, March 31, when members of the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce and Clinton Regional Development Corporation (CRDC) approved a long-awaited merger. The newly formed regional advocacy group is called Grow Clinton. Soon after, the “interim” part of Andy […]
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These are changing times for the Clinton, Iowa, business community.
One of those changes came on Thursday, March 31, when members of the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce and Clinton Regional Development Corporation (CRDC) approved a long-awaited merger. The newly formed regional advocacy group is called Grow Clinton.
Soon after, the “interim” part of Andy Sokolovich’s title was removed and he became the new group’s first president and CEO.
“I have been preparing for this role for a decade. Since arriving in Clinton in 2012, I have felt welcomed and supported,” Mr. Sokolovich said about his new role. “I have developed lifelong friendships and continue to build connections with leaders at the municipal, state and federal levels. I feel that my ability to engage and foster the growth of relationships will enhance the opportunities available to Clinton and the surrounding communities.”
The Grow Clinton leader oversees tourism, economic development and community development operations for the new entity.
The QCBJ recently asked Mr. Sokolovich to share his thoughts on several questions about the economic challenges and other issues facing the Clinton area:
What are the biggest economic/business challenges facing the Clinton area?
Challenges? Yes, we have challenges, but they are not unlike any challenges faced by similar communities of our size. The Greater Clinton Region is too small to be big and too big to be small.
However, we understand our strengths and put those first when working to recruit and retain companies within the region. Let us take the workforce, for instance. When tasked with the opportunity to overcome workforce challenges, we answered the demand by passing a five-county bond referendum with a voter approval rating of 80% to construct a state-of-the-art Career and Technical Education Center in partnership with Eastern Iowa Community Colleges. That center will serve as a pipeline, providing our future workforce with the skills necessary to propel our companies forward.
In response to workforce, we have led the state to attract military veterans through a thriving Home Base Iowa Program, offering veterans incentives to relocate to Clinton County. Over 50 veterans have received incentives and now call Clinton County their Home Base. And I have to mention our one-of-a-kind Clinton County Community Student Loan Assistance Program, a student loan payback incentive for new residents in Clinton County. With the average student debt borrower holding $31.4K in student loans, it’s no surprise that student debt is a leading cause of financial stress. We recruit new residents to our communities by helping to relieve that debt.
Many businesses in the region report the need for more employees. How can Clinton area businesses attract more employees?
Be the company where people want to work. Driven by a desire to make a difference in the world, a new generation has engaged employers, demanding environmentally-friendly practices, strong values regarding family dynamics, and a culture of well-being and caring for the company’s most vital asset: their workforce. Access to a company with a positive culture is intrinsic to a high quality of life.
I’m reminded of a Clinton-based employer who told me of two inspired young women that wanted a job with the company so badly that they would stop by frequently with baked goods and their resume to remain top of mind. They were attracted by the company’s culture and wanted to be a part of that family. The company was not offering massive sign-on bonuses, the best benefits, or ample paid time off; they provided an enjoyable work experience. And yes, the two women were eventually hired and remained company ambassadors.
For more than a year, business advocates in Clinton have been working on “Project MG.” What can you tell us about this project? Any recent updates?
A successful economic developer keeps their cards close to their chest and understands that the security and confidentiality of their leads are paramount. I can reveal that Project MG is moving forward, and both the company and the community are prepared to make significant investments in infrastructure improvements within the Lincolnway Industrial Rail & Air Park, a 450-acre Iowa Economic Development certified site located on the west side of Clinton. More to come.
How has your past experience prepared you for your new role with Grow Clinton?
As a member of the Clinton community since 2012, I have invested in developing strong relationships with municipal leaders, state/federal agencies, civic groups such as Rotary and Kiwanis, local influencers, and plant managers within the existing industry. My time spent networking and cultivating these connections has resulted in an unmatched social network of resources. My experience within the Clinton Regional Development Corporation allows me to speak intelligently on regional issues concerning business retention, business attraction, workforce development, talent attraction, and entrepreneurial development.
Over a decade spent in the United States military provided me with the discipline and work ethic necessary to hold the position of president and CEO.
How do you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
My leadership skills are defined by the people I choose to surround myself with. I am a disciple of strengths-based leadership and feel that everyone, regardless of their position or title, owns innate strengths and areas of lesser talents. It’s the responsibility of a leader to help others identify their strengths, embrace them, and learn to collaborate with others to support the organization’s mission. I have been blessed with an outstanding staff of professionals and plan to learn from them as we grow as a team.
How do you generate great ideas from the people working for Grow Clinton?
Listen. People will be willing to share their ideas if they feel valued and appreciated. The easiest way to demonstrate value is to shut your mouth and listen. I plan to do a lot of listening over the next several months. From the day-to-day operations to the development of a collaborative strategic plan, I will empower my team to inject their thoughts and opinions in a way that drives the organization forward. Ideas are weightless without action, and the Grow Clinton team is ready to act.
What memorable lessons did you learn from your mentors?
Mentorship is the key to success. I have been lucky enough to have several mentors in my personal and professional life. One of the greatest lessons bestowed was a simple one. If you believe that you are the most intelligent person in the room, you are wrong. I enter each meeting understanding that I have something to learn from every participant.
What does work-life balance mean to you?
As the leader of a non-profit, my attention is laser-focused on the well-being and growth of our team and communities. However, when it’s time to be with my family, I must be disciplined enough to leave work at the office and dedicate myself to being a loving husband and father. Without a healthy balance, one will suffer.
What is the best advice you can give to a person going into business?
Read and network. Without a shred of doubt, I can say that, if not for networking and having my nose buried in a book, I would never have achieved my current level of success.
What is the hardest decision you have had to make in your career?
Stay true to your ethics, follow your gut, and decisions will be simple. I know that I will be challenged in the future, and my choices will impact others, but the understanding that I will remain faithful to my values allows me to rest easy at night. I’ll keep you posted.