Meet the Executive Director
Ashland Area Development Corporation (AADC), the primary economic development agent in Ashland County, Wisconsin, hired Betsey Harries as the organization’s Executive Director in July 2017. She replaced Dale Kupczyk, who retired after a 19-year career with AADC.
Jason Douglas, AADC Board President and President and CEO of Memorial Medical Center, said, “The board sought a dynamic person who could not only provide leadership but demonstrated a commitment to working collaboratively and displayed a passion for the Chequamegon Bay area. Harries checks those boxes plus she exhibits an abundance of energy, strong communication skills and a desire to learn, making her an excellent fit for the position.”
Of her selection, Harries said, “This is an important time in Ashland County’s history, with many crucial economic development decisions being made. The AADC Executive Director position is an opportunity through which I can contribute to positive change and help strengthen the quality of life in my community.”
Harries was born and grew up in Ashland, graduating from Ashland High School in 1979. “I’m familiar with the history, the struggles, and the successes of the Chequamegon Bay area and the people who call it home. Since earning my degree in Forestry from UW-Stevens Point in 1984, I’ve traveled and lived in many different places.”
A military veteran, Harries received an officer commission in the Marine Corps the day she graduated from college. She served as the Provost Marshal (another name for military police chief) for three U.S. Marine Corps installations in Southern California and Okinawa, Japan, supervising the law enforcement, airfield security, and structural fire departments. Harries said, “The leadership training I received while I served in the Marine Corps were, and still are, invaluable. My commitment to taking care of my employees, co-workers, and supervisors was forged during my military service.”
After separating from the military in 1992, Harries was employed as a forester and a wildland firefighter with the Missouri Department of Conservation and with Douglas County Forestry in Solon Springs. She also spent several years working for the U.S. Forest Service, writing and editing documents for public review. “I’ve also worked in an animal shelter and for an independent bookseller,” Harries added. “During my career, I’ve worked for federal, state, and county governments, as well as non-profits and retail.”
Harries’ own company, an art business named “Sweetgrass Trading Company”, is in its tenth year of operation. “I started my company after taking a business class from the Northeast Entrepreneur Fund in Northeastern Minnesota. Honestly, when I signed up for the class, I was half-hoping it would convince me that starting my own business was a terrible idea and I should just go back to working for somebody else. Starting your own business can be pretty intimidating. But what I found was a large pool of resources available to help teach and mentor me through my first few years of starting a business. I would not have been successful if not for the encouragement and training I received from economic development resources and fellow business owners.” Harries’ artwork has earned fifteen recognition and monetary awards for original artwork at juried art shows and professional exhibitions.
Beginning in 2013, Harries was the Sustainability Coordinator at Northland College in Ashland. An important part of her job was teaching students how to develop their own sustainable business or community-based volunteer program through hands-on work experiences that emphasize economic, social, and environmental considerations. “It’s not enough,” Harries said, “to just teach students how to grow vegetables for their own enjoyment and consumption. We want them to learn all aspects of starting a successful small farm, which includes the financial aspect. Other students involved in the program will learn how to organize a community garden from scratch and go on to teach 10 or 100 or 1,000 other people how to grow healthy food. Similarly, we want students to learn how to repair bikes, but we also want them to learn the multiple business aspects required to start their own bike shop, so that wherever in the world they end up after they graduate, they have the business and sustainability foundations to be successful and, just as important, teach others along the way.”
“All of my traveling and variety of job experiences gave me valuable perspective on my hometown and the surrounding communities so that when I returned in 2010 to help care for a family member, I saw it all in a fresh context and decided to stay,” said Harries. “And there’s one thing I know for sure – I’ve never lived anywhere as beautiful.”