Citizens invited to greet Atkins at Thursday event

Citizens invited to greet Atkins at Thursday event by David Lias There's a desire on the part of Karen Muenster, vice president of the Vermillion Development Company Board of Directors, that she can't emphasize enough.

She wants everyone, and she means every person, no matter the age, occupation or gender, who lives or works in the Vermillion community, to greet the city's new VDC Director Craig Atkins.

It is, Muenster said, a time to celebrate.

Atkins begins his new economic development leadership role in Vermillion on April 23.

To help him feel at home and get acquainted with the people of Vermillion and Clay County, citizens are asked to welcome him to the community at a special event scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, April 26 at the Buffalo Run Winery.

"This is not just a chamber event," Muenster said. "This is an event in which the whole community is invited to come and meet and greet Craig. It's not just for chamber people or VDC people. We want everyone to come and meet him.

"It is a time of celebration of Craig coming and taking his new position, with the intent and the opportunity for the people of the community to be introduced to him," she added.

Wine, cheese and hors d'oeuvres will be served at the event, which is being sponsored by the Buffalo Run Winery, Gateway, Hy-Vee Food Store, Jones' Food Center, Polaris, Willson Florist, Barista's Brew and Nook 'n Cranny.

"This is a kickoff certainly for the Vermillion Development Company and all of the new, positive things that have been happening, and are going to be happening under the tutelage of Craig," Muenster said.

Atkins is largely responsible for giving the ailing South Dakota State Fair a well-needed shot in the arm. He is a Huron native and graduate of The University of South Dakota. Atkins ended his four-year reign as manager of the South Dakota State Fair earlier this month. He brings to Vermillion a wealth of economic development experience.

Atkins' resume includes nearly four years as executive development director in Redfield, and a stint in Pierre as a development specialist for the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

Atkins served as Redfield's first full-time economic development staff person in the early 1990s. While there, he focused on developing the community's industrial park and revolving loan fund and worked on recruiting new industry, including an attempt to persuade the federal government to locate a new Job Corps facility on the grounds of the South Dakota Developmental Center.

In his three years with the GOED, Atkins assisted South Dakota communities in the development of marketing strategies so that they could begin their own industrial recruitment efforts.

In the summer of 1998, he was appointed interim manager of the State Fair, and ended up taking over the job on a permanent basis.

The fair was suffering from declining attendance and was nearly drowning in red ink when Atkins took the job.

Atkins' leadership, combined with resources offered by the state, helped the fair become a successful venture once again. He helped implement several positive changes. Attitudes of fair employees improved and the event was made a more family-friendly place by getting back to some of its traditional roots.

One of the most talked about changes to the fair � the moving of its opening day to several weeks earlier in the summer � proved to be a major factor in its recent success.

"We really want to make sure that people will come to the April 26 event," Muenster said. "It will be a unique opportunity for area residents, if they haven't been to the Buffalo Run Winery, to come and look it over. I think it's a very positive step forward to the community and we want everyone to join in with us. On April 26, Vermillion is the place to be at the Buffalo Run Winery."

"This is an opportunity for the entire community to come out and celebrate all of good things that are happening," said John Paulson, president of the VDC Board of Directors. "We're excited about our new executive director for the Vermillion Development Company because of the good experience and the contacts that he brings to help us with our business development."

Thursday's event will also be a time to introduce the public to new members of the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and VDC.

"The winery itself is a new business in the community and we want to celebrate that, too, so the location is an example of what is good in the community," Paulson said. "We will have a chance to talk about the new bridge opening, and get out and be together and celebrate some of the positive things that are happening."

Most importantly, he added, is the chance for local people to become personally acquainted with Atkins.

"We want everyone in the community to get to know Craig, and for him to get know them so we can be successful and involve everyone with what we're trying to accomplish with Vermillion Development Company projects," Paulson said.

The community recently has demonstrated that much can be accomplished when it works together.

"We really have a lot of good things happening in terms of communication and cooperation involving the Chamber, the VDC, the city, the county, USD and the community at large," Paulson said. "There's been the start up of the comprehensive city planning, the completion of the Vermillion Place to Be project and Vermillion Beautiful, Inc. has some really neat plans."

Everyone should look forward to Thursday's event, he said.

"It's going to be a great day in Vermillion. It will be a lot of fun, with a lot of fellowship and a chance to be informed of all the good things that are going on," Paulson said.

"This has been an unbelievable experience for me in putting the event together and getting the cooperation from everyone who is donating to this to help make this a success," Muenster said. "I just haven't had anyone say 'no'. To me, it's just so exciting and I think it's going to be so much fun that I want everyone to come and drop in."

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