Meet a Local Leader: Jason White

Jason White, Vice President of Business Services, Greater Dubuque Development Corp.

Jason White and his wife settled in Dyersville, Iowa, after moving from Oshkosh, Wis., during the summer of 2021. He grew up on a farm just outside of Worthington and his wife is from Dyersville. They graduated from Beckman Catholic High School. They are a blended family and White has three stepchildren: Nathan Karcher, 16; Emma Karcher, 14; and Claire Karcher, 12.

White graduated from Loras College in Dubuque. Between then and now, he worked three sessions in the Iowa Legislature, managed a handful of political campaigns, led three economic development corporations in Iowa and served as the founding CEO of the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. from 2015 to 2021.

Highlights during his time in Oshkosh were facilitating the deal to enable Oshkosh Corp. to build a new global headquarters in the community, creating a workforce development program called Winnebago Catch-A-Ride, launching a finance program for new businesses called Capital Catalyst, and recruiting the Milwaukee Bucks’ new minor league basketball team to play in an arena in downtown Oshkosh.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?

I have worked for five economic development organizations — three as executive director, one as president and chief executive officer, and now as vice president of business services of Greater Dubuque Development Corp. Prior to all of these experiences, however, I worked part-time as a redevelopment specialist for the City of Coralville. I worked for Coralville while pursuing my graduate degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Iowa.

The city administrator in Coralville at that time was Kelly Hayworth. He is there today. A sound understanding of local government finance is paramount to working in the economic development profession, whether for a municipality or economic development corporation. I appreciated that Coralville was/is aggressive at using all finance tools at its disposal to help their community grow, enhance the community’s image and provide a high quality of life for their residents.

I admired Kelly for his persistence, tenacity and business approach to solving issues. Kelly also is a nice person and was able to accomplish a lot with his team by focusing on an aspirational vision and not pounding on the table.

What are the most important decisions you will make as a leader of your organization? Greater Dubuque Development Corp. has a mix of successfully accomplished long-time leaders (among them, President and CEO Rick Dickinson) and new blood who have just joined the organization.

The new members include me and the Workforce Solutions team. My role is new on the Greater Dubuque organizational chart. My charge is to bring my past experiences managing economic development organizations in various communities (and states) to the fore while also understanding Greater Dubuque’s initiatives — evaluating and advising about what we should continue and/or improve upon going forward. My direct involvement is overseeing the areas of Workforce Solutions, Business Retention and Expansion, and National Marketing.

As an organization gets larger, there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening? Greater Dubuque, from the outside, is viewed as an organization that is constantly innovating and finding ways to add value to the greater region’s success. Greater Dubuque is a solution-oriented organization.

The organization’s role as a facilitator of the development process ensures that Greater Dubuque maintains strong ties with the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Greater Dubuque values and prioritizes connecting with more than 300 businesses every year through our InfoAction program, ensuring that we never lose sight of what is most important to our community. Our companies expect Greater Dubuque to take the information that we learn and act upon it for both their benefit and that of the community.

Which is more important to your organization — mission, core values or vision? When the vision is well-defined, the foundation is in place for which to form everything else around it. “Executing the mission” is how every organization is measured, but people need to feel personally and emotionally connected to the larger purpose in order for the organization’s potential to be fully realized. Now more than ever, people want to know the “why” behind the efforts making a difference in the lives of others.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? The ability to get back up after being knocked down. Life inherently creates hurdles and obstacles. Character is revealed by how someone responds to adversity. Doing so requires faith, planning and the ability to fall forward.

What advice have you received regarding leadership? Transparency is an important quality. Few people like disagreement and even fewer enjoy being disagreeable. Yet, being able to have and handle such conversations in a way that sides feel heard and respected is even more important than the result.

What lessons can leaders take away from the current pandemic? The disruptions to life, how we interact with each other and conduct business have been enormous. These inconveniences, of course, are dwarfed by the loss of health and life. With that said, disruptions can bring about positive change. More of us have become comfortable with technology and the different options we have for communicating with each other.

Employers and employees are having conversations about workplace environment, work-life balance and productivity. The challenges the pandemic has exacerbated with respect to recruiting, retaining and creating a workforce requires a new level of innovative thinking and planning on all levels.

What are two or three of the best things about being a leader? When you are a leader, your words and actions have a ripple effect on those around you. As I get older, I have an even greater appreciation for this. I also enjoy empowering those around me to think and act big. When people feel ownership over their accomplishments, their confidence enables them to take on things with greater energy and initiative.