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story.lead_photo.caption Courtney Dunn, 30, is the new executive director of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. She is the executive assistant and website administrator for the Maumelle mayor’s office and community and economic development. - Photo by Tammy Keith

Courtney Dunn is going from being an executive assistant to the Maumelle mayor to leading the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. That might seem like a stretch, until Dunn talks about her experience.

The list of her responsibilities has grown since she started working in Maumelle City Hall straight out of the University of Central Arkansas. Even before then, she was an unpaid intern.

Dunn officially is the executive assistant and website administrator for Maumelle Mayor Mike Watson and Judy Keller, the city’s director of community and economic development.

From planning an event honoring a war hero to filling in for the city’s finance director, Dunn has handled it.

“I love my position working for the mayor and Judy Keller,” Dunn said. “I’ve been here since 2010; I think it’s time for me to spread my wings and move on.”

The 30-year-old Mayflower resident will start Aug. 13 as executive director of the Jacksonville Chamber.

Sheryl Boyd, president of the chamber’s board of directors, said Dunn has several qualities and skills that made her the right choice.

“I like that she can bring knowledge of the workings of city government and the importance of the chamber and the city all working together. Her background enforces the need of us all to work together. I liked that in her background; we all did,” Boyd said.

“I liked the education she brings to the table. Not only does she have a degree, but she’s also had some other training with the economic development side.”

Dunn is a 2011 graduate of UCA, where she earned a degree in public administration.

She needed an internship for her degree, and her mother, who works as an assistant for the Maumelle police chief, suggested Maumelle City Hall. “The city clerk said, ‘Come on,’” Dunn said. She was an intern and assistant to the city clerk/treasurer.

Dunn said Watson had never had an executive assistant, but she started in December 2011.

“He’s great; oh, my gosh,” she said. “He knows everything.”

Her list of duties include — but aren’t limited to — managing the mayor’s calendar and coordinating annual budget meetings; preparing award submissions for the city; managing the city’s social-media pages and responding to residents’ questions and concerns.

One of her favorite memories is when a family approached her and wanted recognition for the 90-year-old father’s war medals. “We organized an event; it was in this room. [U.S. Rep.] French Hill came. That’s one of the things I’ve loved the most, when someone brings a problem or request. I want to find a solution,” she said.

“I’ve learned a lot working for the city about politics, people skills in general, learning how to communicate with people even if you don’t click. I feel like I’ve learned a lot of life skills.”

Dunn is a graduate of the Community Development Institute at UCA, which Keller suggested she attend. “Judy has been really great and been a great mentor. She said, ‘You have to go to CDI,’” Dunn recalled.

Dunn also went to a Basic Economic-Development Course this year in San Antonio, Texas.

“One thing I learned there that stood out is being an economic developer isn’t always fun. You don’t always win, but you’re bettering the community … you’re bringing in jobs and putting food on people’s table. That’s really corny, but it stuck with me.”

Keller said she is happy for Dunn, even though she will be “sorely missed.”

“When Courtney and I discussed her long-term goals, she immediately started looking for the training that she would need to accomplish those goals. She would have liked to have been on a faster track, but just like everyone else, we have budget constraints,” Keller said. “She had the next two to three years mapped out when this opportunity became available. She’s a self-starter and a team player. She was the project manager for selecting a new website provider and has been instrumental in the new design and content management of the new site. Most recently, she has been the project manager for a promotional video production.”

Keller said Dunn also has been creative in ways to showcase Maumelle’s strengths, like applying for awards and promoting Maumelle in social-media campaigns. “She also came up with a new slogan that we use: ‘Together We Thrive.’”

Dunn said her goals for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce are first to get to know community leaders and members of the chamber board.

“It’s important to involve city government. It’s always a group effort. When everybody’s on the same page, everything runs smoother,” she said.

“Also, I’ve noticed the chamber’s website is a little outdated and doesn’t have updated information,” she said. “I’d like to create a new website altogether and keep it up to date and have a member directory and calendar of events and use it as a tool to promote Jacksonville and the businesses.”

Dunn said Boyd told her there are about 340 members of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

“Chambers are exciting; you get to meet businesses first and you get to focus on the positive and push them and promote them just to make the community better as a whole,” Dunn said.

That’s another quality Boyd liked about Dunn.

“I like her energy and her enthusiasm and how excited she was about this opportunity,” Boyd said.

Dunn said it’s true; it was agonizing waiting on the phone call that she’d landed the job. “I figured I was up against someone who already had a lot of chamber experience, so I didn’t know where I stood.”

As it turned out, her experience was just right.

She and her husband, Chris, have two children, Cole, 5, and Cora, 2, and they will continue to live in Mayflower.

“I have been here [Maumelle City Hall] since I graduated college. Since I’ve been here, I’ve gotten married and had two kids, so it’s like home, but I’m going to make a new home,” she said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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