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UJRO hires first executive director

After two years of serious planning, Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization has hired Steve Turner as its first executive director and has opened an office at the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce’s building at 125 East Main Street.

The organization has operated on a volunteer basis since 2012 as part of the City of Jackson’s DREAM Initiative and became an affiliate community of Missouri Main Street Connection since 2014. UJRO President Tyler Wolfsberger said hiring paid staff is part of Missouri Main Street’s approach, and has been something the organization has been working towards.

Two years ago, UJRO wrote a job description for an executive director and considered hiring someone in part-time position. Wolfsberger said they decided against hiring someone at that time, saying they wanted to wait until they were financially stable to hire someone to be full-time.

Wolfsberger said the pieces aligned late last year, with a matching grant program from Missouri Main Street was offered to cover some of the costs of the executive director position for the next two years.

“When this grant program was presented to us, we jumped on it,” Wolfsberger said. The job was posted in January and Wolfsberger said there were several strong applicants for the position.

“It was a very difficult decision for us to make, as far as who the best fit would be, but we are excited to have made the offer to Steve Turner,” Wolfsberger said. “He’s got some strong experience and writing accolades that I think will lend themselves well to the position.”

Turner, who started the job on April 1, has been a resident of Jackson for 25 years with his wife Sheri. Turner was a freelance director and cinematographer, working for national clients such as NBC, AT&T, AB/Inbev and Kraft Foods. His documentary on the wrongful conviction of David Robinson, “The Past Is Never Dead,” will premiere on May 17 on Amazon Prime.

“For the past 15 years, I’ve been traveling for my work and I’ve been looking for a change,” Turner said. “I wasn’t really looking for another career or position, but the idea of this position brought a passion for me personally. I think a city center is extremely important and if we can just expand on what we have, we are going to have a bright future.”

Turner holds a degree in English literature from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where he also attended film school. Prior to being a filmmaker, he worked in the publishing industry and spent 20 years in management with Barnes & Noble, Inc.

“His experience in the corporate world will go a long way for us, as far as being able to manage a team and help get us to the next step,” Wolfsberger said.

A major part of Turner’s job will be to organize and coordinate volunteer work. He will be a central point of contact for uptown merchants and community groups, which Wolfsberger said will allow for much more effective work.

“When we were entirely dependent on volunteers, it’s difficult to set deadlines and it’s difficult to devote the amount of time that these projects really need,” Wolfsberger said.

Turner said he was excited to start his new position, saying his first goal will be to meet with all of UJRO’s partners to get feedback on what the future of Uptown Jackson should be.

“I’m here to work with the Uptown Jackson community,” Turner said. “We are all in this together, and I think it’s important to have a consensus about how to move forward.”

Wolfsberger said it’s an exciting time for the organization, and they hope the changes will allow them to expand their programs, grow their volunteer base and hopefully hire more employees in the future.

“I feel like the sky is the limit for us, and obviously this is one huge step in our growth, but I think it’s just going to be one of many,” Wolfsberger said. “In no time we will be as big as Old Town Cape.”

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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