Kayla Graven looks forward to broadening the focus of her economic development expertise to all of Springfield.
Graven, 34, told Illinois Times that the “opportunity to grow as a professional” attracted her to Springfield city government after working since 2018 at Downtown Springfield Inc., where she has been the nonprofit organization’s executive director the past two years.
Val Yazell, director of the city’s Office of Planning and Economic Development, said Nov. 20 that city officials are in “final conversations” with Graven to join the city in the “next few weeks” as the office’s operations coordinator.
Graven would earn about $75,000 per year, and her hiring wouldn’t require Springfield City Council approval, Yazell said.
“All of her experience in economic development … will be a real plus for us,” Yazell said of Graven, whose responsibilities would include tax increment financing and other economic incentives.
Yazell said Graven is an ideal candidate to assist a 12-person office that has been hampered by vacancies in recent years.
Graven’s last day at DSI will be Nov. 24.
“I have loved working for DSI, and it’s given me so much experience,” she said.
DSI Board President Tony Schuering, an associate attorney at Brown, Hay & Stephens, said in a news release: “We extend our sincere thanks to Kayla for the time, energy and vision she has poured into DSI and downtown Springfield. We wish her the best in her next chapter and look forward to continuing building on the successes that DSI has had during Kayla’s tenure.”
Schuering said a search to fill the executive director position will start soon.
Graven, a Decatur native who grew up on her family’s farm near Warrensburg, earned a bachelor’s degree in management and organizational leadership from Illinois College in 2011. She worked for WSEC, the predecessor to WSIU-TV, as well as Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Central Illinois, before being hired at DSI.
Graven said she is proud of her accomplishments at DSI, where she previously served as program coordinator and assistant director. She pointed to the success of the Old Capitol Farmers Market – a program of DSI – in opening safely for curbside distribution in April 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said she has assisted several small businesses – including The Wakery and Whimsy Tea Company – as they began selling at the farmers market and became successful enough to move into brick-and-mortar sites.
“DSI has worked tirelessly to fulfill its mission of creating and supporting a vibrant downtown through collaboration, creativity and leadership,” she said. “Through projects like the Levitt-AMP Concert Series and the Isringhausen DRIVE Grant, we have thrived to make downtown the crown jewel of Springfield.”