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Guest Column: United and ready to move Albert Lea forward

Guest Column by Jerry Gabrielatos

Jerry Gabrielatos


“Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play together is another story.” — Casey Stengel

I thought of that Stengel quote when reading the headline in the Tribune that the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau would be under the same roof.

I also thought, “Now more than ever, we are playing together.” Moving into one location is smart for two reasons. First, a hub will now exist for entrepreneurs, visitors and business owners, making it easier to connect with staff who serve a similar purpose. Second, ideas snowball when working in the same space. It’s easier to work through a concept with someone across the hall than getting together for a meeting three days later.

And to expand on that Stengel thought, we have good players. They’re too humble to talk about how great they are, so, in order of seniority:

Phillip Johnson has led ALEDA for over a year. During that time, he established and built relationships with our business community and recruited investors to building in Albert Lea. He played a critical role in advancing the housing development on the Blazing Star Landing. The COVID relief program run by ALEDA is helping our businesses during this challenging time.

Holly Karsjens took over the CVB just a month ago, but you might know her through her work with Wind Down Wednesday, her business downtown or the volunteer work she did that led her to be named Albert Lea’s Citizen of the Year. Getting into the travel business at a time when we’re all staying home is about the hardest thing I can think of. She wisely used the time to expand Albert Lea’s digital footprint — maximizing social media, TripAdvisor and created clever video content.

Shari Jenson has been at the Chamber for just over two weeks; however, we’ve already had conversations about the role she can play with the city. That is to say, not just being the point person for the business community as we work through items related to the pandemic, but also, the rewriting of gritty details as we modernize the city’s ordinances to be more user-friendly.

Remember, too, that these three entities are not just united in a physical space now, but a figurative one, too. Last fall, we worked together on a strategic plan that can be found on ALEDA’s website. It details what we want to accomplish, timelines and responsibility. Moreover, it provides accountability — a way for the public and the boards to determine if we are meeting our goals.

What excites me most is the common characteristic these unique individuals all share — a willingness to disrupt the status quo. In an era with a pandemic and recession, we need creative thinkers who don’t use the phrase, “It was like that when I got here.”

My sleeves are rolled up. Let’s get to work.

Jerry Gabrielatos is the interim Albert Lea city manager.