New development director hired
The Fairfield Arts & Convention Center has hired Cody Jones as its new development director.
Jones has been on the job since early August and loves everything about it. As development director, Jones’s job is to secure donations, grants and sponsorships for the convention center. Naturally, he spends considerable time building relationships with donors and sponsors.
Jones said he has been taken aback by the size of the hearts he has encountered here.
“This experience has taught me I’ve always underestimated the generosity of people,” he said.
Jones, who just turned 28 years old, has performed similar tasks at previous jobs. He has helped with event planning before, and is no stranger to meeting strangers.
“I’ve always been around this atmosphere,” he said. “I love how jazzed my co-workers are about coming to this place. We’re like a family here. It’s refreshing and inspiring.”
Jones was born in California. When he was in first grade, he and his family moved to Mesa, Ariz., where he lived until he graduated from high school. After high school, he moved to Rochester, Minn., to live with his father.
“I needed a change of scenery after high school, so I went to Rochester,” Jones said. “I fell in love with it. Having more than two seasons was great.”
With a population of 100,000, Rochester seemed like a small town to Jones, whose home city had a population of more than 4 million in the greater metropolitan area. Downsizing would become a theme for Jones as he would move to a small town shortly thereafter.
Jones remembers well the first time he set foot in Iowa. It was during a race at the Knoxville Raceway in the dog days of summer.
“I hadn’t figured out what humidity was yet,” he said. “I was just as perplexed as when my nose hairs froze during my first winter in the Midwest. I said, ‘I don’t think I’m out of shape, but I am soaked in sweat.’”
Jones contrasted Iowa’s heat to Arizona’s heat, which is more like the heat one feels upon opening the oven door.
The Midwest has really grown on Jones in the past seven years. He recounted a story in which his car broke down on the interstate in Arizona. He stood on the side of the road for three hours and not one of the thousands of cars that drove by helped him.
“On my first day in Rochester, my car broke down on the freeway and five cars stopped in the first 10 minutes to ask if I was OK,” he said. “It blew my mind. That got me thinking about my community a little bit differently.”
Jones enrolled at Upper Iowa University in Fayette in 2006. He double majored in marketing and management. Fayette is where Jones began dating Sara Cass, who is now his fiancée. Cass hails from Fairfield’s neighbor to the south, Birmingham. When Jones visited Fairfield, he was most impressed with its big city amenities, like a Walmart.
“Fayette is an hour away from the closest Walmart,” Jones said. “There are fewer than 1,000 students and fewer than 1,000 other people in town. In the summer, you could hear a pin drop.”
Jones was also surprised at how cultured the town was.
“From the art galleries to the music, it really did feel like a big town,” he said.
Back at Upper Iowa, Jones was about to discover his calling in life. A mentor at the university encouraged him to make a difference in the world. Jones began volunteering, which he said fit nicely into his majors because they all involve building relationships. Asking people to volunteer is very similar to what he does now in his current occupation, which entails soliciting financial support for the convention center.
“I’m asking folks to give their treasure to help sustain the arts and convention center,” he said. “Asking for volunteers is the same, except that you’re asking for their time. A lot of people would rather give a couple hundred dollars toward something than their time, which is the greatest treasure we all have.”
Jones graduated from Upper Iowa in 2009, whereupon he and Cass moved to St. Cloud, Minn., to attend St. Cloud State University. He obtained a master’s of business administration from St. Cloud State, while she got a master’s in community counseling.
St. Cloud State had a volunteer center, which was right up Jones’s alley. Helping people is central to who Jones is as a person.
“I want my time working to be spent building social capital in my community,” he said. “I don’t want to just trade time for a paycheck.”
In 2012, Jones and Cass moved back to Fayette because Jones had found a job at his alma mater. The university had just created a civic engagement office to keep up with all the other schools in its conference that had one. Jones’s job was to build relationships between the faculty, students and community.
“My job was to establish mutually beneficial partnerships,” he said. “It was very similar to what the Fairfield Volunteer Center does. It was a clearing house for volunteers and community needs.”
Jones worked in the civic engagement office for about 14 months. He and Cass decided it was time to fulfill their desire to move to southeast Iowa, which they did in June. The couple moved to Fairfield before either of them had secured employment.
“We did it completely backwards,” Jones said. “We knew we wanted to be here. We could have gotten jobs making $100,000, but if we wouldn’t have been here, we wouldn’t have been happy.”
Cass found a job at the Ottumwa Job Corps. Jones, meanwhile, learned of the opening at the convention center and proceeded to “hound” Rustin Lippincott until he got an interview.
“After I met Rustin, a board member and one of the founders of the center, I was sold on working here,” Jones said. “It is great to work with someone who is as driven and solution-oriented as Rustin.”
Jones said local leaders such as Suzan Kessel have impressed him and inspired him to work even harder.
“She is doing now what I hope to do,” he said. “She is building social capital in our community.”