MITCHELL | It was a case of right time, right place for Mark Vaux earlier this year.
An Aberdeen native, Vaux has spent more than a decade working in economic development in both North and South Dakota, most recently in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area.
But he was looking for a place where he could take a leading role, live closer to his family and be in a location where the civic and community leaders were pulling in the same direction. And Mitchell caught his eye.
Vaux, 56, was named the executive director of the Mitchell Area Development Corporation and the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce on July 27, and he started the new job last month.
"I just really liked the cohesiveness," he said of the structure of Mitchell's job. "We're all under one roof and we're all working together, between all of the groups that work in this (Chamber) building and through the businesses. That's always a good way to work, when everyone is pulling in the same direction."
As someone who says he relishes working behind the scenes of projects, Vaux previously worked as the executive vice president for the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation for five years. That job primarily entailed business retention and expansion, along with finding funding sources for the organization and recruiting new businesses to the region. The job also included policy, legislation and workforce development, but he acknowledged that he's always had the goal of leading a city's economic development work.
"I guess I've always liked the idea of being able to run my own shop, so to speak," he said. "That was part of the appeal. I've always viewed that as an opportunity and challenge I'd like to take on."
Vaux took a unique route to get to his current position in economic development. He had aspirations of working in banking while in college at Northern State University, but later had a law enforcement career and eventually worked for then-U.S. Rep. John Thune. He worked for the South Dakota Governor's Office of Economic Development from 2004 to 2012. One of his emphases was firearm manufacturing, allowing him to work with some of Mitchell's firms in that industry and his predecessor in the new job, Bryan Hisel, who is retiring after more than 30 years in the position.
Vaux also worked for one year for the city of West Fargo, North Dakota, in economic development and community services, and he previously worked for the Northern State University Foundation.
He estimated it had been about 10 years since he had visited Mitchell, prior to his first interview for the job. It was on his second interview that he took a tour of the city and found himself impressed.
"There's just a lot of good things going on," he said, citing Mitchell's recent completion of the indoor pool project and the growth of both Dakota Wesleyan University and Mitchell Technical Institute facilities.
Vaux said he's seen good cooperation from city and business leadership so far. For example, he noted the community branding effort that was completed a few years ago as being a good way to connect the city through one common image and message.
"For every city, it does come down to what sets you apart, and what will differentiate you from the next town," he said. "It's great that Mitchell has that with its image."
As for his priorities, Vaux said he's working to bring himself up to speed on the city's business opportunities and workforce issues. But he said it will be hard to know what sort of timeline that would require, and he wants to spend a lot of time with the organizing boards of both the MADC and the Chamber to understand where they've come from.
"You're really looking to learn as much as you can as quickly as you can," he said. "But I have to recognize that the whole process will take some time to get running full speed."
He said he's pleased with what he's heard about Mitchell's efforts to invest in downtown infrastructure and believes the pendulum of interest in retail and business is swinging back toward downtowns.
"Downtown is a key component of any community. The communities that do the best job of adapting will have an advantage, and we want to position Mitchell for that," he said.
Vaux is also getting a firsthand look at Mitchell's housing challenges, as he's in the process of purchasing a home. He said another goal will be to address housing needs in tune with the workforce demands.
"Affordable housing means something different to every person in this community," he said.
He said he's interested in the city's efforts to clean up Lake Mitchell, but primarily from a quality of life standpoint.
"At the end of the day, we need to bring new people to the community," Vaux said. "From what I've seen, retention is very good here, and we can only work to make that better."
Vaux and his wife, Dawn, have three adult children and seven grandchildren. On a personal level, Vaux has shown he's a fighter. He's twice beaten cancer, facing a rare form of breast cancer in 2015 and prostate cancer in 2017, which he said has changed his outlook on life.
"You really find out who you are and what you're made of when you go through something like that," he said. "You learn more about life than you could in any educational or any professional setting you could be in. It's so impactful."