A VISION FOR JEFFERSON
By Brandon Hurley
Take Jefferson’s recent vision of downtown for example. The city’s push not only to become a Main Street community a decade ago but to actually take advantage of the state programs that come with it and implement them has inspired a new generation of leaders.
The downtown has seen a recent boom in revitalization, from re-models and new incoming businesses to an increased emphasis on local art. The future is now for Jefferson’s bustling business district, and a familiar face has stepped in to grab hold of the reins.
Local mainstay Matt Wetrich recently began his first full year as Jefferson Matters: Main Street and Chamber Community executive director. The husband and father of six was hired in the summer of 2022 after serving a brief stint as tourism and events coordinator.
Wetrich, a16-year Jefferson resident, has served as a key member of the Jefferson city council since 2017. He boasts a strong background in the outdoors, previously spending 15 years as the Carroll County Conservation naturalist while he also moonlights as an impressive photographer capturing unique landscape images. Wetrich has been infaturated with nature photography since he was a child, drawn to the storytelling aspect of people and places. He’s a published artist both for photography and writing in local, regional and national publications.
The versatile Jefferson resident holds a liberal arts degree from Iowa State University with a focus specifically on sociology, landscape architecture and ecology.
Wetrich, 44, leads a team of three at the Jefferson Matters office, which includes Molly Cunningham as tourism and events coordinator as well as Beth Vander Wilt, who was previously executive director and now serves in a part-time and volunteer role.
The Jefferson Herald recently conducted a question and answer session with Wetrich, touching on a multitude of subjects, from his passions and goals to what lies ahead for Jefferson Matters and the community as a whole. He’s itching to engage even more with Jefferson’s residents and help make the county a better place to live, piloted by the many small businesses in the area.
The conversation is posted below, edited for space.
Jefferson Herald: What initially drew you to working for Jefferson Matters ?
Matt Wetrich: I have worked with this organization throughout my time on city council, but have had connections to it before that. My admiration for it has meant to our community has been an ever-growing fire within. The idea that success breeds success is what drew me to want to be a part of it.
I’m passionate about the success and evolution of this community and feel our organization is one of the major players in taking Jefferson to bigger places. The first 10 years of Jefferson being a Main Street community has shown that the Main Street philosophy and game plan are winning approaches. I’m honored to be able to be a part of keeping the momentum going.
JH: What excites you most about your new executive director role?
MW: I am very much a people person. I really enjoyed my time at Iowa State learning about sociology and landscape architecture. Most people hear “landscape architecture” and think landscaping or horticulture. While, it is some of that, it is more about the study of how people interact in and with outdoor spaces and one another in those spaces. Of course, sociology is the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society. I feel that the more we interact with one another and share positive experiences together in our community, the stronger our community will be.
In my role here I hope to continue to grow relationships with local business owners, community leaders, various organizations, and other entities and learn how we can best work together to help Jefferson grow and be a vibrant place for folks to live, work, and play. Not to mention visit!
JH: What do you believe is the primary role and responsibility of Jefferson Matters?
MW: Our organization’s purpose is to support, promote, and preserve the historic downtown of Jefferson, Iowa while contributing to the greater community’s continued vitality.
Our board has set a few priorities for 2023: To strengthen the sense of community here; to build an environment to support the retention and recruitment of businesses to downtown and the community; and to strengthen our organization within.
JH: What other goals or ambitions do you have moving forward, and how do you see yourself enhancing the business community of Jefferson?
MW: Local research has been done to identify what residents would most like to see added to the community. We plan to continue to work with local government, Greene County Development Corp. (GCDC), Region XII, and other entities to bring new businesses and help existing businesses flourish here. I hope to continue to grow the small business culture here, helping business owners not just succeed in business, but feel that they are a part of something bigger here.
We want businesses to be proud to be located in Jefferson and Greene County, much like we want residents to feel the same. Fostering a greater sense of community and pride is a big goal for us here. Some of the ways I think we accomplish that are by continuing to host successful community events – and add more of them; I also think we continue to be creative in how we promote and celebrate our local businesses via events, promotions and creative marketing.
JH: Looking back at 2022, what are some of the accomplishments and initiatives you and the organization of Jefferson Matters are most proud of?
MW: This past year saw a lot of ribbon cuttings and open houses around the community. From Warm Wishes to The Centennial, to ReMax and Midwest Behavioral Health and others, we have filled many of the downtown storefronts.
We also saw new apartments open for rent, from Wilson Avenue Suites to City Views Lofts, and more are on the way early in 2023 when the apartments above the soon-to-be Public House (former Ace) are ready to rent.
We hosted a number of successful events that saw record numbers, including the revamped Bell Tower Festival, Winter Festival: Celebration of Trees, Crusin’ to the Square, a golf tournament, BRAG (Bike Ride Around Greene County) and Art on the Square.
We also helped a number of small businesses with our mini grants program and the Jefferson Wants You and Rural Return initiatives.
We are very proud of a new website we launched ahead of the Bell Tower Festival, www.experiencejeffersoniowa.com. It serves as a launching point for folks looking to visit or move here, and we’ve already heard from people moving here that it was a big help in their decision and in the moving process.
JH: As a whole, what upcoming and current projects does Jefferson Matters have going on and why do you believe they are important?
MW: Like any volunteer-based organization, we need to continue to actively recruit and retain volunteers. We have many, many incredible and dedicated volunteers on our teams – many of whom have been on board since day one, ten years ago.
We want folks to feel like they can be a part of something big here, but also know that they can commit to as much or as little as they’re comfortable with. With such a variety of roles our organization plays in the community, we feel we have a spot for anyone that wants to be a part of something bigger and join one of our teams in 2023.
So, growing and strengthening our organization is on our radar for 2023! We are currently in the heart of our contribution drive, which plays a big role in how much we can do in the coming year.
Since we are now a combined Main Street and Chamber organization, we no longer send “chamber dues”, but hope businesses continue to contribute to our efforts to support them and the community as a whole.
JH: What’s in store at Jefferson Matters for the new year?
MW: In 2023, we have some fun things planned. One of the new things to look out for is a new event on July 2 called Porch Fest. It is an outdoor event where a handful of musicians each play on different front porches and the audience moves from house-to-house. We also expect to see a new rooftop art installation happening above Unger Insurance, which will be a complimentary piece to the 2022 painting atop Peony – both by Dana Harrison.
As a whole, myself and our organization are very proud of what has happened in the past 10 years of Jefferson being a Main Street Community. Everywhere you go in town you see an influence this organization has had in making this community stronger.
We know the word is out on Jefferson – our board and staff hear it at every out of town conference or event we show up to – what is happening in Jefferson is talked about and asked about. But we know we can do better in telling our story locally as well, and we will be in 2023. We want people living in Greene County to know about us and be proud of us.
Wetrich’s expanded thoughts on the Jefferson Matters team:
Molly Cunningham started with us Jan. 3 (as the new tourism and events coordinator). She is a native to Greene County, and graduated here in 2015. She has a degree from Iowa State in Event Management. She has been working at The Cellar Winery in Cambridge as their Event Coordinator since 2019. Molly is passionate about event planning and has hit the ground running here. We are overjoyed to have her on the team! Molly can be reached at email@example.com. Molly and her husband, Anthony have a 1 year old son, Jack.
Beth Vander Wilt has returned to our organization in a part time role and as a volunteer. Beth’s experience and knowledge of the organization is invaluable. We are incredibly grateful to have her onboard and involved!
Molly, Beth, myself, our board and team of volunteers are excited for what 2023 has in store for this organization, and to see how we can continue to make Jefferson a vibrant place to work, live, and play!
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