Rushmore to retire as borough economic development director

Soon after Carol Rushmore stepped into her role as economic development director in 1993, Wrangell’s economic landscape changed forever. The sawmill, which had been the borough’s economic mainstay since the mid-1950s, shut down, setting off a chain reaction of job losses and business closures that affected the entire community.

“We lost 20% of our workforce overnight,” Rushmore said. “It was extremely bad for a good 10 years.”

But 29 years and countless grant applications, public forums and infrastructure projects later, Rushmore is planning to retire, leaving the community in a better economic situation than when she found it, she suggested.

“There is so much opportunity right now,” Rushmore said. Major projects at the former 6-Mile mill property and Alder Top Village (Keishangita.’aan) Subdivision (former Wrangell Institute property) could be on their way in the coming years. During her final few months at the borough, she will collaborate with community members, area stakeholders and other borough officials to “figure out what the community wants to see and make happen” at potential development sites.

Over the years, Rushmore has been involved in bringing many of the services that borough residents enjoy to fruition, including The Marine Service Center, Nolan Center and Heritage Harbor.

The job is about collaboration, she explained. “The community, the organizations, everybody pulling together and asking, ‘How can we make Wrangell survive?’ — to me, that is the key.” She strives to understand and implement the community’s vision, translating their dreams for the future into grant proposals, zoning codes, development policies and tourism marketing strategies.

She also collaborates with organizations throughout the state through her involvement in the Southeast Conference and Southeast Alaska Tourism Council.

The borough relies on grant funds to finance major infrastructure projects, but this funding has become increasingly difficult to obtain in recent years as the state budget has become tighter, forcing municipalities into the competitive federal grant pool.

Through the efforts of the borough’s primary grant-writers, Rushmore and Capital Facilities Director Amber Al-Haddad, the borough has received $18.7 million in grant and loan funds for a $24.7 million worth of capital improvement projects

“They broke the mold when they made Carol,” Assemblymember Bob Dalrymple said at the Nov. 8 assembly meeting. “We’re not going to find another Carol.”

During Rushmore’s tenure, the economic development director job description has grown into a three-page document with 35 qualifications and 13 responsibilities, many of which include sub-responsibilities. The first bullet point in the director’s list of duties includes nine different action words.

“This position wears multiple hats,” Rushmore said, which include tourism development, economic development and planning and zoning. “In a lot of communities, you would have individuals for all these roles.” The assembly discussed distributing the list of responsibilities across two separate jobs at its Nov. 8 meeting, but decided against it.

In the coming weeks and months, the borough hopes to identify a candidate who can bring their own unique abilities and experience to the role. Applications are now open for a new economic development director. The borough will begin reviewing applications around early December in hopes of hiring someone well before Rushmore leaves in April. That way, she will be able to train the incoming director for a few months before they step into her shoes.

Rushmore moved to Wrangell from Oregon, where she had lived with her husband for about four years while working with the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce. Once she retires, she plans to start chipping away at her bucket list. The list, which is over three pages long, should keep her occupied for the foreseeable future.

Rushmore has one piece of advice for her successor – listen to the community. Being the economic development director means adapting to Wrangell’s ever-changing economic environment and responding to the needs of residents and local businesses in real time. “It’s never a dull moment,” she said.

 

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