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Rachael Kinnick
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What Would You Get on a Plane For?

Posted on 04/28/2016 at 8:58 AM
What would you get on a plane for?

What do you think of when you think about visiting Paris? How about London? If the Eiffel Tower and Buckingham Palace came to mind, you're not alone. Those large attractions are sought out by millions of visitors. 

How do smaller destinations compete with large cities like Paris, Las Vegas and New York City? I attended the Iowa Power of Travel event in Ames last week, and took away some great tips from the speaker, Doug Lanksy. He is an expert on the topics of travel and tourism management, and is an author, speaker and world traveler. 

The tourist population has doubled in the past 20 years and is expected to double again over the next 20. Lansky pointed to this stat as an opportunity for the state of Iowa. The world's largest tourist destinations don't have the capacity to handle double the people, so that leaves cities and states like ours poised to draw an increased number of visitors.

He challenged the visitors bureaus in the audience to identify our destination's "thing" and work to get everyone paddling in that direction. It's all about creating an overall direction, strategy and brand. For example, when you visit Pella, you'll notice it's not just the Tulip Time committee talking about tulips. The individual businesses are selling tulip merchandise, volunteers maintain the flower gardens, and individual residents plant pretty tulips in their yards. They have all owned that tulip brand and the whole town is paddling in that direction.

Destination development includes beautification and infrastructure, but it's also about adding incredible new things that people can't experience anywhere else. We have many neat things in our community, and I often credit diversity for being Grinnell's strength. While that diversity gives us stability and adds interest, we still need that overall "thing" that people will get on a plane for or drive a few hours to visit. Our brand needs to be something they can't find anywhere else. 

Lansky emphasized the importance of the longevity and uniqueness of a destination's brand, and mentioned several examples to illustrate his point. Nevada hyped up their "Loneliest Road in America" so well that it was no longer a lonely road. Iceland is building a brand around the Northern Lights, but the lights are so rarely seen that visitors will likely be disappointed. The London Eye was a huge draw until several other cities copied the idea, and now none of them are as popular because they're not unique. 

If you have any ideas about what Grinnell could be known for, I'd love to hear from you. Remember, it needs to be something so unique that a visitor would drive several hours to see. 

~Emily Counts

Do You Have $20?

Posted on 04/07/2016 at 8:55 AM

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Did you know approximately 6,000 people read this email every week? If each of us made a commitment to spend $20 more per month at a local business, that's an extra $120,000 per month going into our local economy. That adds up to a grand total of $1,440,000 for the year! 

We have been having many conversations about attracting business to our community and, as part of those conversations, we deemed it important to better understand the successes and challenges facing our existing retailers before we can effectively attract additional retail. So we have been meeting with each local retailer one on one to learn more about the challenges they face. One question we've asked each of them is how many more customers they need to take their business to the next level. While they are all unique, we learned that just a few more shoppers each week spending $20 each can make a big difference for many of them.

Would you pledge to spend an additional $20 this month at a local business? Your $20 combined with our other 5,999 readers' $20 could make a big impact. We need your help making sure our current retailers are thriving if we want to attract additional retailers to our community. Research shows dollars spent in locally-owned businesses have three times the impact on your community as dollars spent at national chains. When shopping locally, you simultaneously create jobs, fund more city services through sales tax, invest in neighborhood improvement and promote community development. 

We are grateful for your commitment to Grinnell, and I encourage you to #shopgrinnell as frequently as you can! 

~Rachael Kinnick

Award Winners

Posted on 03/17/2016 at 8:52 AM

Award Winners

We had a wonderful Wednesday evening recognizing a variety of businesses, groups and individuals with awards at our Annual Celebration. Nominations are sought from the public, with the final recipients chosen by a selection committee comprised of chamber of commerce members. Thank you to those of you who were able to attend our event.

You can see all the photos from the night on our Facebook page.

There were many deserving nominees, which made the selection process difficult. It goes to show just how many people are doing outstanding things in our community. Congratulations to the following 2016 award recipients:

Business of the Year: Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company

Retail Business of the Year: Bates Flowers By DZyne

Restaurant of the Year: Relish Grinnell

Service Business of the Year: Grinnell Community Day Care & Preschool

Economic Impact Award: Mayflower Community Watertower Square

Community Betterment Award: Poweshiek County Dental Coalition

Outstanding Tourism Experience: Grinnell College

Public Servant of the Year: Dave Popp, City of Grinnell Public Service Director

Volunteer of the Year: Ann Brau, Grinnell Farmers Market Volunteer Manager and owner of Compass Plant CSA

Entrepreneur of the Year: Craig Cooper, owner of Bikes to You and Cooper Real Estate

One To Watch Awards:

  1. 1.     Jennifer Collins, Grinnell Area Arts Council Arts Education Coordinator
  2. 2.     Elyssa Halstead, Beau*ty Hair & Nail Studio owner
  3. 3.     Matt Karjalahti, RE/MAX Partners Realty owner and broker
  4. 4.     Deb Shearer, Bill's Jewelry owner
  5. 5.     Rob Whitham, Brown's Shoe Fit Grinnell manager/owner

20 Under 40 Awards:

  1. Lisa Behrends, Grinnell College
  2. Tyson Brandt, Wes Finch Auto Plaza
  3. Crystal Burch, Beau*ty Hair & Nail Studio
  4. David Counts, Gamers
  5. Jarrod Diehm, 1854 Deli
  6. Kyle Jaeger, Bikes to You
  7. Megan Jensen, Grinnell Regional Medical Center
  8. Whitney Jensen, Jensen Optometrists
  9. Cara Kenkel, Grinnell Regional Medical Center
  10. Lisa Klenk, T.L. Baker & Co., LLP
  11. Austin McKenney, Crisis Intervention Services
  12. Holly Pettlon, Grinnell Regional Medical Center
  13. Rochelle Ragusi, Genesis Development
  14. Nicole Sexton, Grinnell College & Chloe & Isabel
  15. Melissa Ulrickson, Crisis Intervention Services
  16. Briana Vande Stouwe, Community 1st Credit Union
  17. Devin Wells, Grinnell State Bank
  18. Katy Wells, Double You Marketing
  19. Kaitlyn Wilcox, Grinnell College
  20. Kyle Wilcox, Grinnell Regional Medical Center

Thank you to Grinnell Regional Medical Center for sponsoring the evening! And a thank you to Grinnell Mutual for hosting us at their new conference and education center. It was a great night!

~Emily & Rachael

A Boost & A Splash

Posted on 03/10/2016 at 8:49 AM

A Boost & A Splash



When I stopped by the college earlier this afternoon, there was a line of athletes out the door of the Bear Center:


They are all arriving today to compete in the NCAA DIII Indoor Track & Field Championships being hosted at Grinnell College tomorrow and Saturday. Not only does this event draw 600+ college athletes from across the country, but it also brings their families and spectators, growing Grinnell by a few thousand people. 

Hosting the national track meet is a fantastic boost to local tourism, but it's certainly not the only boost we see during the year. Sports tourism has a tremendous impact on our community. If you check the activity calendars at the high school, the college or Ahrens Park, you'll see how many weekends are filled with athletic events that attract visitors to our community.

We in Grinnell are very fortunate to have unusual sports facilities for a community of our size, and those facilities allow us to host a variety of sporting events all year long, which draw thousands upon thousands of visitors here over the course of a year. When these teams and spectators visit our community, they are putting money into our local economy by purchasing food, going shopping, filling up at the gas station and staying in our hotels. This provides an economic boost to our community by bringing in outside dollars. 

In an effort to increase the number of sporting events hosted in Grinnell, a group of locals have been working to plan more tournaments here to maximize the use of our sports facilities. Our community is also one of ten Iowa communities that received this year's state Sports Authority grant, which provides funding to support communities' efforts to increase tourism through sporting events. Our local Sports Authority committee awards mini-grants to assist many groups with the expense of hosting tournaments and events locally. 


While we're on the topic of sports tourism today, it's the perfect time to announce the 2016 Grinnell Games schedule! Save the date for June 11-12, because we have so many fun things in store for the event this year. We're very excited to add a big splash to this year's Games - a UV Splash, that is. The UV Splash will be that Saturday night and is a fun 5K run/bike event complete with black lights, glow necklaces and lots of color. 

This year's Grinnell Games schedule includes:

  • 5K & Half Marathon
  • Lil' Warrior Run & Kid Activities
  • Three on Three Basketball
  • Sand Volleyball
  • Bags Tournament
  • The Amazing Chase
  • UV Splash 5K Run/Bike
  • 5K Warrior Run

See the full schedule and details at Please consider participating or volunteering to help us make this the biggest Grinnell Games yet!


~Emily Counts

Ripple Effects

Posted on 03/03/2016 at 8:47 AM

Ripple Effects

A couple weeks ago, I saw a visitor on the sidewalk looking a little lost so I stopped and asked if he needed help finding anything. As we struck up a conversation, it was apparent how much of an impression the kindness of a few people at the coffee shop had left on him. Per their suggestion, he was walking around visiting some of our downtown businesses and was excited to show me the new book and pair of shoes he'd purchased.

The kindness of a couple residents in line at the coffee shop had quite the ripple effect. They had given him a few recommendations that resulted in him spending a little extra time downtown and supporting a couple of our local businesses. He told me he would have headed straight back to the Interstate if it weren't for his conversation with a couple locals. In fact, he travels by Grinnell for work from time to time and had only ever been to the coffee shop and the gas stations. I have no doubt this he will stop in Grinnell more frequently because of the positive experience he had here the other day. His short experience here turned him into a repeat visitor and shopper. 

​​​​​​It's worth a reminder every now and then about how extremely important it is that we are all being friendly and kind to visitors and newcomers in our community. Your small act of kindness can truly create a ripple effect that benefits our entire community. Don't forget that. 

The next couple weekends are big ones in town with a statewide youth swim meet this weekend that is expected to draw 360 swimmers plus all of their coaches and families, and next weekend is the national DIII indoor track & field meet with about 600 athletes plus all of their coaches and families. When you see these visitors out and about, don't underestimate what a simple 'hello' or 'welcome' can do to leave a good impression on them. By living or working in Grinnell, we are all ambassadors of this community. Let's see what kind of ripple effects we can create.

~ Emily Counts

Celebrating Women

Posted on 02/25/2016 at 8:43 AM

Celebrating Women

International Women's Day is coming up on March 8, a day celebrated by millions around the globe to recognize women's achievements and contributions to business and society. 

An inaugural dinner and reception in honor of International Women's Day is planned in Grinnell for March 8 and we would be delighted to have you join us. Julie Gosselink of the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation will speak on "The Influence of a Grandmother: Remembering Dolly Ahrens."

The celebration is Tuesday, March 8 with a social at 5:30 at dinner at 6:00 pm at the Joe Rosenfield Center at Grinnell College. Tickets are $20 per person and available for purchase at our office or the Drake Community Library. Tickets must be reserved by March 1, so please let us know if you would like to purchase one. 

Join us for an evening celebrating women - bring a guest and celebrate! 

~ Emily Counts

An Art-Filled Downtown

Posted on 02/18/2016 at 8:42 AM


A Colorful Downtown

Several months ago, we wrote about the importance public art can have in creating a vibrant and beautiful downtown. We told you about a new public art initiative led by Grin City Collective and the Grinnell Area Arts Council to introduce four works of public art into downtown Grinnell this summer. The four artists and designs have been selected and we are eager to see the new art pieces installed in our downtown this summer. 

The new pieces will join existing artwork (murals, mosaics and a small number of sculptures) in our community. Not only does public art enhance the beauty of our community, but it adds to a community's culture and identity.

Here are the four art installations that will be added to downtown this summer:

1. Artist Tiberiu Chelsea from Ames, Iowa, will gather shoe prints from community members and design a two-sided ink print on canvas to be displayed in the window of Brown's Shoe Fit.


2. Stephanie Sailer of Swisher, Iowa, will create a large-scale sculpture of a lantern plant or ground cherry to be installed in the prairie grass at Drake Community Library.


3. Wilma Wyss from Berkeley, California, will design two 3-D mosaic sculptures of endangered Iowa prairie plants to be installed at the Grinnell Arts Center.

4. Bounnak Thamavong from Swisher, Iowa, will design a custom bench for the front garden at Relish. 

You can read more about the artists' plans here.  There are several public events plans this spring to celebrate the public art project, starting with a kick-off event next weekend and ending with an unveiling ceremony on June 11. 

Nothing Says Love Like Shopping Local

Posted on 02/11/2016 at 8:40 AM

Keep the love in Grinnell this Valentine's Day! We've compiled a list of ideas for enjoying time with your friends or sweetheart this weekend while supporting Grinnell businesses.

Dining & Entertainment


A Community-Wide Focus on Education

Posted on 02/04/2016 at 8:37 AM

A Community-Wide Focus on Education

Did you know there are two great community initiatives underway focused on education priorities in Grinnell? One is the Campaign for Grade Level Reading which is aimed at preparing all kids to read at their grade level by third grade. The second is the Sills Gap Initiative which is focused on preparing graduates with the skills needed in the workforce.

Both of these initiatives are receiving extra support and manpower this year through the Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership, a year-long program that places AmeriCorps service members at a variety of host sites throughout the community. Grinnell College is administering the AmeriCorps grant and serving as the backbone organization for this program.

There are currently eight AmeriCorps service members focusing on these two initiatives. Each service member is responsible for leading a task force of community members and launching a pilot project related to their action area. The additional support of the service members will help our community grow capacity and further the efforts of both initiatives.

Action areas include Summer Learning, School Readiness, Healthy Readers, Skills Gap, Family & Community Engagement, Volunteer Infrastructure, Afterschool Enrichment, and Summer Learning Programming. Each action area now has an AmeriCorps member leading it, and there are task forces to help with each. If you are interested in joining a task force or would like more information about how to get involved, please let me know and I will connect you.

Our schools need the support of our entire community, which is why our organization is participating in this effort. It is important that these efforts continue because they will strengthen our community and prepare our future workforce. We are a host site for the Family & Community Engagement AmeriCorps member, who just began working with us a week ago. Jacob will be busy developing marketing plans and communication strategies that support the efforts of all of the task forces, so he has a big job ahead!

- Emily Counts

Together We are Stronger

Posted on 01/28/2016 at 4:56 PM

As the new year gets underway, we always spend time reflecting on past accomplishments and re-evaluating our priorities and plans for the new year. Our organization has a lot on our agenda for 2016, but we won't be able to do it alone. While we work to strengthen the local Grinnell community, it's also important that we work with the other communities in our region. The old adage that we're stronger together is so true. 

You may not know that our Chamber of Commerce is a member of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, which is the powerhouse regional chamber in Des Moines. We work together with the Partnership and its 21 affiliate chamber of commerces to work toward a common goal of strengthening central Iowa as a great place to do business and raise families. Our 300 local chamber members are all members of the Des Moines Partnership, which now represents 5,700 business members and is the 4th largest chamber in the nation. I think that speaks volumes for the collaboration happening in our state. 

It's easy for those of us in Grinnell to look at Des Moines as a giant and opponent, but let's not forget that good things happening there often have ripple effects throughout the region. Rather than working in our own bubble, we aim to collaborate with our counterparts and neighbors in other communities to learn from each other and grow stronger together. 

We hope you have that same mentality here locally. Rather than doing something off on your own, consider ways you can collaborate with others here in Grinnell. That's largely what we do as the chamber of commerce. We bring together 300 members to work toward a common goal of making Grinnell an amazing place to live, work, learn and play.

I encourage you to reflect on how you work together with others in our community. It's always a good time to get more involved, and we'd be happy to help you make those connections if you can. Let's pool our resources, put our heads together, and work as a team. 

We truly can accomplish great things when we work together. 

- Rachael Kinnick

p.s. Our Annual Celebration will take place in March - please take a moment to nominate businesses and/or individuals for awards and help us celebrate their accomplishments! Submit your nominations online here.

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