WOMEN IN BUSINESS: Leading ladies – Profiles of women playing major roles in Cadillac’s growth

CADILLAC – Behind Cadillac’s bustling growth, fertile commercial climate and exploding tourism industry there exists a core of strong female leadership. Women in both public and private sectors offer innovative ideas, solid planning abilities and the confidence to take bold action to move the community forward.

Three women provide outstanding examples of Cadillac’s feminine leadership: Carol Potter, Roxanne Hunter and Precia Emmons. Each has her own style and flair and has contributed to the area’s prolific growth in a unique way.

Soft-spoken, 29-year-old Precia Emmons is one of a handful of women in the state providing city management leadership. She wears two hats for the City of Cadillac: director of administrative services and director of Cadillac’s Downtown Development Authority. In 1992, following a two-year stint in municipal services with the City of Mt. Pleasant, she stepped into her public service role in Cadillac.

Among other initiatives, Emmons has been a key figure in a successful brownfield redevelopment project. The first such plan in the state to be implemented, Emmons was responsible for writing and administering a State Site Reclamation Grant. The grant secured $750,000 in funding to regenerate an abandoned site within Cadillac’s old industrial park.

Last occupied by Metalcasters foundry, the building and 4.7 acres have been redeveloped for use as a rubber recycling facility. The project is a joint effort between the city, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Avon Automotive, which will recycle up to two million pounds of scrap rubber annually from its Cadillac area manufacturing facilities.

The contaminated Metalcasters site, a long-term drain on city resources, is now an asset expected to generate $73,000 in property taxes over the next five years. As the maiden project for the reclamation program, the plan is being viewed as an important model.

“Metalcasters is a good case study for a reusable brownfield,” Emmons said. “It lets other municipalities know how we’ve combined various resources to make this site competitive again.”

A woman of resolute action, other significant projects Emmons has had a hand in include a tax increment financing plan for the Cadillac DDA. Emmons wrote the TIFA plan which will capture $300,000 in tax dollars to fund the construction of three city parking lots.

She was also responsible for coordinating funding efforts that allowed for the revitalization of the H.L. Green building, a 10,000 square-foot retail space that had been vacant for more than six years prior to modernization.

Executive director of the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau, Carol Potter is upbeat, creative and energetic. She promotes the area with unabashed enthusiasm and has been instrumental in bringing Cadillac into the national spotlight as a desirable tourist destination. Her philosophy: “If we make enough noise about ourselves, we’re bound to be noticed.”

A Cadillac native, the 55 year-old has promoted local recreational opportunities since 1978 when she began a 14-year association with Caberfae resort. Potter worked her way up the Caberfae ladder from the ski shop to management where she served as director of marketing and sales. In 1994, she brought her talent to Cadillac’s visitors bureau.

One year later, Potter showed the stuff she’s made of: vision, the ability to inspire others and a down-to-earth practicality. Her leadership efforts seized a hefty slice of the northern golf explosion for Cadillac as a result of her implementing a consumer-friendly, one-call booking package called Golf Cadillac.

The program is an association of nine golf properties, eight resorts and motels, and local manufacturer, Avon Golf Grips. The numbers speak for the program’s success. In year one, member golf properties booked 850 rounds. In year two, numbers leaped to 1,300.

“This year, it’s going through the roof,” Potter said. “I truly think we are a trend setter.”

The well-received program even earned recognition in national industry publications.

Potter introduced a new plan this year to market Golf Cadillac. The plan sells multi-course packages called “Caddy Cards” via the Internet. While a new twist for Golf Cadillac, Potter has taken advantage of the Internet as a marketing tool since 1995 when she was one of the first of the region’s visitors bureaus to launch a Web site.

It remains one of the best northern Michigan tourist sites on the Net. As proof, last winter the bureau received national recognition from Zeitgeist Consulting, consultants to convention and visitor bureaus across the country. The firm applauded the innovative Snowmobile Ride Board site, which links snowmobilers to trail and lodging partners. The consulting firm hailed it “a sensational service to enhance a visit on the front end.”

Effective promotion has also earned the Cadillac visitors bureau recognition as one of the top five snowmobile destinations in the country by Men’s Journal and the Atlanta Constitution Journal.

Potter’s commitment to excellence earned her the keys to the City of Cadillac in 1996. She also received the West Michigan Tourist Association Gold Star Award in 1996 for marketing.

Confident and ambitious, Roxanne Hunter, 34, has proven herself a competent leader in state industry. She is vice president and chief financial officer of Wilcox Associates, Inc., a Cadillac-based engineering firm with offices throughout Michigan.

But it isn’t enough for the Cadillac native. She’s now about to prove herself as a bold and competent entrepreneur.

Along with Jerry, Richard and Randy Wilcox, Hunter has formed the Grandview Technology Center partnership. The family foursome purchased the former Kysor Corp. headquarters last March with plans to establish northern Michigan’s first high-tech industrial park on the 115-acre site.

The partners believe the project will support expansion of the region’s industrial sector.

“Cadillac is bound for growth,” Hunter said. “You’ve got to have the high-tech services that go with it. Industry is screaming for it.”

The prime property is located just off highways U.S. 131 and M-115. Grandview Technology partners have targeted 85 acres for park development. The existing and very impressive 20,000 square-foot Georgian marble office building serves as headquarters for Wilcox Associates and will become the park’s central facility.

Hunter said a timetable for the project designates most of 1998 and 1999 for laying out a master plan. She anticipates the group will begin courting high-tech manufacturing and service companies in late 1999.

“I don’t think we’re deluding ourselves,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot of years to attract businesses, but it will succeed because it’s a beautiful location and the idea of locating with like businesses is attractive to many people.”

After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University, Hunter worked for a small Detroit accounting firm. She assumed a position in Wilcox Associate’s bookkeeping department in 1986.

Demonstrating her leadership potential, she computerized the Wilcox system at a time when it was considered breaking new ground–something she still views as an important accomplishment.

Despite her notable achievements in the business world and because of her personal capacity for forward thinking, Hunter is often frustrated by having to confront some old-fashioned ideas about women in the workplace.

Hunter feels the ’90s woman is still required to give more than men in attempt to demonstrate competency and win the confidence of co-workers, especially with the older generation.

“Sometimes you have to work harder and go the extra mile to show you’re not just another pretty face,” she said. BIZNEWS