by Julie Lineback
If the past few years are any indication of success, April McKown is destined to go far. Since graduating from the University of West Georgia in 2013, she has not only been honored by her alma mater as a member of the 2016 Class of 30 Under 30, she was also named as one of the Young Professionals to Watch by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In addition, Douglas County and Douglasville recognized her by naming her a Top Young Professional and Employee of the Year, respectively.
“While I am truly humbled by any award that I receive, I recognize there is still a lot for me to learn as I grow in my career,” shared McKown, who currently works as Main Street manager for the City of Douglasville. “I feel I am called to be a public servant and serve my community to the best of my ability so that families for generations can have something to be truly proud of.”
McKown has been with Main Street Douglasville in her current role for three years. Douglasville is a member of the national association Main Street America, which is comprised of more than 2,000 historic downtowns and neighborhoods. Years ago, these centralized locations served as the commercial and social hubs of small towns. As shopping malls and big box retailers took over, little remained of yesterday’s Main Street except for dilapidated skeletons of wood, concrete and brick. That is until organizations like Main Street America, and people like McKown, took action.
“The Main Street movement grew out of a recognition that a community is only as strong as its core,” she explained. “The practical framework outlined by the Main Street approach, as well as the passion of the professionals and volunteers who make up the Main Street network, helped to pave the way for the renaissance of healthy, vibrant downtowns that we’re experiencing today.”
The Main Street approach focuses on four points—organization, promotion, design and economic vitality—all which relate to McKown’s role, where she is responsible for developing and analyzing revitalization strategies. In the last 18 months, Main Street Douglasville has created 27 jobs, hosted 46 events with 30,000 in attendance, rehabilitated three buildings and contributed to 38 new business openings or expansions.
“It’s all about getting your elected officials, investors, and the movers and shakers of your community on board with your plan while branding your community with a unified logo, signature events, and marketing strategies,” McKown continued. “This is all while working towards making the downtown aesthetically pleasing, which can involve anything from planting trees, organizing clean-ups or awarding façade grants to downtown business owners. It is also important to include a diverse marketplace, meaning you have a mixture of restaurants, retail and service-type businesses in your downtown.”
“Our overarching goal is to create a community proud of its small town charm with big city amenities, where progress and preservation work together to create an attractive livable city center and a thriving, diverse marketplace where all are welcome to gather and celebrate our unique history and charm,” she explained.
McKown said she credits UWG, and specifically the Department of Geosciences, for instilling in her a sense of ambition and strong work ethic. Still to this day, she recalls a moment when Associate Professor Dr. Andy Walter, director of the geography program and the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, told her to “shoot for whatever she wanted in life, both professionally and personally.”
“A professor had never told me something like that, and with such affection, I knew he meant it,” McKown reminisced. “What Dr. Walter didn’t know was how much I needed to hear those words. Those words changed me and changed the way that I worked and studied. I credit his true dedication to UWG and his students for much of the success that I have today.”
It is in part because of West Georgia and Walter that McKown said she has the best job in the world.
“I have the ability to change people’s lives,” she concluded. “Whether it’s a start-up business that is looking for a brick-and-mortar location, or a family-owned business that needs a low interest loan to keep the doors open for another year or a non-profit organization who wants to raise money and awareness to cure cancer, I have the ability to truly help them and sometimes even change their lives.”Posted on