Bubbler Executive of the Week: Devin Sutherland

Devin Sutherland, Executive Director of Downtown Racine Corporation (DRC)
Organization address: 425 Main St. in Racine
Website: www.racinedowntown.com
Industry: Nonprofit and Economic Development
Number of employees: Six regular and six seasonal (May through September)
Family: I just celebrated my 13th wedding anniversary with Karen Sutherland. Karen is the Manager, Organizational Development & Diversity Initiatives, for Modine Manufacturing Company. We are the proud parents of three children, ages 10, 8, and 5.

What is the mission of the Downtown Racine Corporation?
“The Downtown Racine Corporation is the voice of Downtown Racine, facilitating, coordinating and catalyzing efforts to enhance the image and functionality of Downtown and attracting new businesses, residents and visitors.”

What was the smartest thing your organization did in the past year?
“The smartest thing DRC did in this past year was to bring on board a new Director of Marketing and Membership. As a result, we have begun using several new marketing vehicles to support downtown and substantially grown our social media presence.”

What’s new at the Downtown Racine Corporation?
“During the past year we have implemented a number of new marketing initiatives primarily focused on the use of social media. We have also launched a new membership and fund raising campaign. But, probably the most exciting new thing we are doing is continually enhancing events we produce to bring people downtown. In just a few weeks, we will be trucking in tons and tons of snow for the Wisconsin State Snow Carving Championship.”

What will be your organization’s priorities as the year comes to a close?
“The DRC board of directors is very focused on growing memberships and broadening our support base. The staff is very focused on producing special events and coordinating marketing during this time of year that can either make or break small business owners.”

What will be your organization’s main challenges in the next year?
“Our main challenge for the upcoming year will be to increase memberships and broaden our support base. As a result of the past economic downtown turn, our support base has shrunk as did the capacity of many of those that continued to give. Additional support is imperative for us to continue delivering our current program of services.”

How would you describe the business climate in downtown Racine?
“Downtown Racine encompasses a relatively small area characterized by smaller spaces – filled with locally owned businesses – in beautifully restored historic buildings. Downtown Racine is one of the Midwest’s most unique and vibrant lakefront communities filled with boutiques, art galleries, international cuisine and museums with year-round festivals, parades, street parties, and other community events.

“The economic downturn, which we began feeling in 2009, put a tremendous strain on many of our small business owners. Not all were able to survive. Those businesses that did survive have certainly become stronger. We have definitely begun to see the turnaround. By year-end, we will have opened approximately 17 new businesses and started construction on a major redevelopment project that will include 36 market rate apartments and 6,000 square feet of new retail space.”

Do you have a business mantra?
“Plan your work and work your plan.”

What was the best advice you ever received?
“During college, one of the alumnus of the social fraternity I belonged to was very generous in sharing his time and experiences with me. He was very active in community development, real estate development and politics. He frequently told me to ‘keep your fences mended’ and ‘run your traps,’ which is another way of saying investigate or pursue all of your possible options.”

What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you in your career?
“Downtowns are such great places to work. They are filled with many unique and charismatic business owners and crazy events that make for great stories. I have often thought I should write a book about the funny things that I have experienced…runaway parade floats, the top of the Community Christmas Tree breaking off in front of the media, a shoplifting debacle that was supposed to be an educational opportunity, or even a very awkward moment between Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia at one of our festivals.

“Here in the office, the DRC team loves to celebrate birthdays by having potluck luncheons. Everyone here would tell you the funniest thing to happen to me was the time I was responsible for bringing barbeque as we were celebrating the birthdays of three employees. My foot got caught in the cord of the slow cooker, pulling it off of the table. The pot was shattered into many pieces and the barbecue splattered for probably twenty feet. We enjoyed the rest of the celebration with buns, chips and cake.”

What do you like to do in your free time?
“Because many of the same strategies used for downtown revitalization can be applied to other business districts, I have started my own company, Neighborhood Management Solutions, and provide marketing and management support to Business Improvement Districts. I also keep very busy with my three children who are all active in sports, music and school activities. I enjoy reading and hope to get in more hunting and fishing as the kids get older.”

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