Only a few months after her college graduation, Emelyn Gwynn ’15 is steering the future of business development in downtown Altavista.
As director of the nonprofit Altavista On Track, Emelyn plans events that bring foot traffic downtown, cultivates new opportunities for businesses, and leads efforts to use grant money to improve the economic environment. The rest of the community is catching her vision.
“Her youth and her exuberance are infectious,” said Dennis Jarvis, Altavista’s director of economic development. “You clearly see that in the way her ideas are accepted in the community and move forward.”
Last spring, Jarvis contacted the career services offices at several local colleges to let them know of a job opening at Altavista On Track. For Emelyn, a communication studies major, it seemed like the perfect next step. At the time, she had an internship in Lynchburg’s Office of Economic Development, where she had learned the essentials of downtown economic development and sharpened her interest in government on the local level.
“Local government is often forgotten, but it is the most relevant to your life,” said Emelyn.
Her work in Lynchburg City Hall had demonstrated Emelyn’s creative thinking and quick learning, said Anna Bentson, Lynchburg’s assistant director of economic development. “There is no one-size-fits-all economic development strategy,” she said. “The field requires people who can explore ideas, communicate well, and adapt quickly to changing business and community needs. Although Emelyn didn’t have much experience, she showed great capacity for listening well and understanding the needs of a community. She worked well on our team and displayed a willingness to figure it out and quickly learn the best response.”
After hearing Bentson’s high opinion of Emelyn’s work, Jarvis hired Emelyn during finals week.
In Altavista, Emelyn has undertaken a variety of projects, like helping a farmer-entrepreneur start a community-supported agriculture venture or finding the best way to spend money from a broadband development grant. She also has identified other projects for which she is pursuing grant funding.
Jarvis said her work is an important part of the town’s future. “What you do at the street level with business owners on Main Street is traditional economic development. It’s community development, and it’s entrepreneurship,” said Jarvis. “Having someone like Emelyn be able to manage that on a daily basis is crucial.”
Emelyn enjoys providing a voice for the small businesses that bring life to downtown. Her ultimate goal is to make life better for the people who live and work in Altavista. “As a public employee you are a servant of the people in your community,” she said.