De Pere Proud: Allyson Watson
Why would an East Coast girl be interested in marketing a small,
Allyson Watson, a New York native, is the executive director of Definitely De Pere, a nonprofit organization committed to promoting downtown De Pere through marketing, promotions and business development
efforts. Watson accepted the position because she believes De Pere is a
hidden gem — a great place to live, work and play.
In just under three years as executive director, Watson has successfully implemented programs to push downtown De Pere forward — and more great things are to come.
Upon graduating with a degree in economics from Rider University in New Jersey in 2010, Watson found herself without a job. While she understood the business section of the newspaper better than most, Watson was a small fish in a big sea. She worked a variety of part-time jobs before deciding to go back to school. New York’s Marist College had an online public administration program that allowed her to move to Wisconsin while completing her master’s degree.
“Both schools were in similar size and had a similar philosophy to St. Norbert College in De Pere so I instantly felt a connection when I moved here,” says Watson. “It was a familiar environment.”
She agreed to give Northeast Wisconsin a try for six months. Fortunately for Watson, it’s easier to stand out in Green Bay than it is in the New York metro area. In those six months, she had several internships and made some friends. She adds, “Honestly, having the freedom to try different things as an intern and for little pay opened a lot of doors.”
Patience Pays Off
One of her internships was with the city of De Pere. Because the city believed in investing in the downtown, Watson was able to work on Definitely De Pere projects while on the city’s payroll. When her internship ended, she applied for the director role.
“Because I knew how to do everything I had a huge advantage,” she says. “Very unexpectedly I had a job in exactly what I was getting my master’s degree in two months before graduation.”
In April 2013, Watson became the first paid — and only — employee of Definitely De Pere.
Definitely De Pere has been a Main Street program since the 1990s. There are now 38 communities part of the Main Street program; De Pere was one of the original five. It changed names and the organizations involved varied. No one was committed enough to drive change. Since Watson stepped in as executive director, Definitely De Pere received its nonprofit status and became a Business Improvement District, which helps with the organization’s operating costs.
“That was a huge accomplishment,” says Watson. “I feel that was the one thing holding De Pere back.” Her mission now is to make progress.
“Our program has been alive longer than programs like On Broadway in Green Bay, but because they have had consistent leadership and a structure that has been maintained they are miles ahead of us. Now we have to catch up,” says Watson. “We need to be championing the same things they are championing. We need to be focusing on business recruitment and downtown housing and how we can get people to realize we are one of the best places to live in Northeast Wisconsin.”
While there is enough work for Watson to spend morning, noon and night focused on Definitely De Pere, she does try to call it a day around 6 p.m. The day of an event is an exception. She adds, “I set myself up for failure early, answering calls all day long. I found I needed to separate. I think in order to do a good job I need to say I’ll get to it the next day.”
The 27-year-old explains she’s the Jane of all trades for Definitely De Pere. Just like the majority of leaders in nonprofits, Watson does so much more than program management. She’s been able to dabble in marketing, event management and business relations while inspiring generous volunteers and interns to get the work done. “I’ve been put into situations and given opportunities others my age have not and I feel very fortunate,” she adds.
But how does she know how to successfully run the nonprofit? Watson shares she’s a fast learner and excellent at time management. And, she’s learning how to delegate.
“My personality is perfect for this role. After meeting other people in this type of role and others in nonprofits, I realized we are a rare breed of people who take on way too much and live with the stress of it. It is a personality thing — it is being willing to juggle a lot,” she says.
De Pere Finds its Niche
This year, De Pere celebrates its 125th anniversary. De Pere is one of the communities with the most historic buildings and historic districts in Northeast Wisconsin, but managing a community separated by a river has its challenges.
“You have to respect the different cultures of each side but you also have to find the uniting factors. The markets and the demographics they serve on each side of the river are very different, as well as the businesses that thrive there. It is a learning process. You learn what events work better on each side and what things don’t work well,” says Watson.
Fortunately, she believes De Pere has found its niche. “Our big brand we are trying to connect with is arts and music — not just music and visual arts but the art of cuisine,” adds Watson. De Pere will have two tasting events downtown, the Soup Walk and the Cheese and Chocolate Walk. They will participate more than ever in greater Green Bay’s Restaurant Week. And, she recently announced the city’s exciting plans for the summer.
“Every weekend in the summer, excluding July 4th, we will have an arts- or music-focused event. We are really trying to hone our brand — that we are a place that not only supports the arts but as a place people can experience art and music they wouldn’t see anywhere else,” says Watson.
On Fridays, from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, De Pere will have an art walk or music event to entice people to come downtown. For six Fridays, more than 20 artists will set up within east side businesses to showcase their creations. On the opposite Fridays, in partnership with Mile of Music, De Pere will host EastWest Music Fest. Three venues on both sides of the river each night will make room for performers to share their musical talents. A kick-off concert will take place on the St. Norbert College campus on June 5. The last musical event of the summer will be on August 30 with a performance at Nicolet Square.
As part of the milestone anniversary, Watson explains the city is also investing in much-needed streetscape improvements. The campaign is highlighting why De Pere is a great place to live, shop, play, dine and grow.
“We are focused not only on our assets of shopping and dining, but on the opportunities and that it is a very likable place,” she adds.
While Watson pours her heart into Definitely De Pere, she also makes an effort to get acquainted with Wisconsin and ingrained in the community.
She writes a blog, “Ally in Wisconsin,” about living in and exploring the state. It might include details on a recent trip to a Brewer game, the best bloody mary she found or a cool park she stumbled upon.
“I like to showcase there is so much more than beer and the Packers,” says Watson.
She explains the city was recently ranked the No. 11 most livable city in Wisconsin; No. 1 in Northeast Wisconsin because of job availability, safety, how schools perform and the cost of living.
To satisfy her creative urges, Watson works a few Saturdays a month at a downtown De Pere pottery studio, Paintin’ Pottery or Bead It, helping with kids’ birthday parties.
“I have so much fun with it, helping the kids paint and cutting the cake. It offers its own stresses — a girl has paint and frosting in her hair and the mom is on her way — but it is a lot of fun,” she adds.
Watson is active in Current, Green Bay’s young professional network. She volunteers for Junior Achievement, meeting with De Pere middle school students and teaching programs on money management and careers.
“Most 6th graders want to be professional athletes but coming in from a different profession, not as a doctor or lawyer, wearing jeans and saying, ‘This is what I get to do every day,’ could inspire them. I think it is important children are exposed to different career opportunities. I always remind them at 12 years old they may be thinking about money but their happiness is important too,” says Watson. “I think my job is really cool.”