When Julie Stow first came to Cedar Rapids 25 years ago, she was reluctant. She was a native Californian living in Santa Barbara staring at the ocean. She was working at Nordstrom and they announced they were starting a new division where customers could buy products online.
“I thought the idea was great and then they said you’re going to Cedar Rapids. My first thought was, what have I done wrong? My boss said just go check it out so I came here with a group of employees, adamant that I wouldn’t be moving,” Stow recalls. “On the weekend we were here I absolutely fell in love with Cedar Rapids. I went back to my boss and said I’ve changed mind. I want to go.”
Twenty five years later, she’s still here – and one of the biggest recruiters for our city, now as Associate Executive Director of the Tourism Office. Not only has she successfully recruited conventions and meetings, but also her family. Within the last three years, her parents, brother and sister-in-law and three other family members moved here. It’s a family affair.
Stow is a passionate people person and that is the number one reason she decided to stay. “I fell in love with Cedar Rapids because of the people. Everyone was so friendly and willing to connect me to the community. I’ll never forget stepping off the bus during my first visit and Lee Clancey, who was mayor at the time, greeted us. I thought this is really cool. They have a female mayor and here she is taking time to welcome us. We toured the community and I fell in love with the neighborhoods and charm of the city.”
While the people attracted her, the variety of things to do caused her to stay. “Every single weekend, even if it’s the dead of winter, there are so many things I can do. I can snow shoe at Indian Creek Nature Center. I can go see a show at CSPS, or any one of our fantastic theatres. I can listen to live music at Rock the Block in The District, attend the Downtown Farmers Market, or enjoy my favorite old fashioned at Cobble Hill. There are so many activities.”
Stow also praises how easy it is to get involved in the community and make a difference. “Coming from a larger community, there wasn’t an opportunity to serve on a board. So often it was CEO’s of major companies that were filling those roles, which is understandable, but it was very hard to raise your hand and get involved. Here if you raise your hand, any non-profit is going to be ecstatic to have someone join in and help make a difference.”
She touts the affordability of hosting an event here and how walkable the downtown and other districts are when recruiting companies from all over the country – many who have never been to Iowa. “I wish somehow I could help every community member see the reactions that I see when I welcome potential client’s to our community. We knock their socks off and it starts at our airport. They love how beautiful and easy it is, and that they immediately feel welcome. Then they can’t believe that downtown is only seven minutes away. The list goes on.”
“I was meeting with a prospective client last year and she kept looking up at the sky. I finally asked her, what are you looking at? And she said I’ve never seen so much sky before. It’s those things that we take for granted every single day and we forget that some people never get to see that. Just another thing I love about our community.”