A Trailblazer is someone who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo; who believes that the way we’ve always done it isn’t necessarily the way we’re going to do it.
Highlighting 7 female leaders who continually evoke a deeper connection to the reason why they’re blazing a trail in the first place: to create a new path and opportunity for others. They are inspired by a sense of community that is pervasive across the board. These Trailblazers willingly share their knowledge and encompass a vast community of learners and leaders. They embody the concept of pushing the envelope and fearlessly navigating the unknown.
In this article, we interview President & CEO of the Itasca Economic Development Corporation, Tamara Lowney.
Quote you live by:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
What’s your mission?
As long as I can remember, I wanted to see the world, travel, learn and experience new things. I loved my family but felt like the world was beckoning me to explore. So I did. In my journey, I took in incredible sights and amazing events, but the most remarkable part was the people, the cultures. I came home with all of this in my heart, ready to do something real. Make a true difference. I hit reset and trusted that the new path would still allow me to do all of those things. Just here at home.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
Really trusting and believing in myself. I have spent the majority of my career leading people, learning and trying to be my best self. Because I truly believe when I am my best, I can help others find their best, and together we can achieve amazing things every day.
What has been your biggest challenge in this role?
My career today is all about relationships. We find success together, not standing alone trying to hold up mountains. Building and maintaining those relationships is hard. Breaking down barriers that are decades old and locked in a vise is hard. My job is just as full of inspiring moments as it is those where you need to just vent to get through to the next conversation. But when the win comes, you know it was worth it.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Passionate. Some might say energizing, while others might say … exhausting? [laughs] I believe leadership is building a culture where people feel challenged and appreciated. Where they can speak up without fear and share ideas. We work hard together and have a lot of fun.
What would you say to others to encourage them to become a leader in an organization?
There is nothing quite as inspiring as the feeling of helping your team achieve amazing things — when you see people grow and develop and feel that you are contributing to that development. Then there are those moments where you and your team are making real impacts in your community, for people you know and care about. It doesn’t get better than that.
What would you like to achieve in the next five years?
I truly believe that there are incredible opportunities for our community in the next few years. I want to continue to bring people forward and continue to drive projects to the finish line. Most importantly, I want to take on welcoming community work and finding pathways for us to grow through diversity and workforce attraction. There are so many leaders here that are ready to move the dial and help us grow, but this work goes beyond bringing in new businesses; it means bringing in a new workforce too.
Minnesota has always been home to me. Even though I left to travel the world, I always knew I would come home. I love the people, our small towns and our history. I love the way I can walk into my local gas station and know just about everyone and they know me. I grew up knowing that I wasn’t alone, not just because of my amazing family — but because of the community I lived in.
What attributes connect you to your purpose?
Curiosity, real interest in people, problems, processes. I don’t exaggerate when I say, “I’m really interested in hearing more.” I believe that you can learn from everyone (yes, even those who are against you) and every situation. I love learning about people and get so excited when I connect dots for myself and others. The value of the human experience is totally underrated, and I go out of my way to understand people and cultures. As a child, I had a globe that I used to spin, close my eyes, and point to all the places I would go. I read books, until reading wasn’t enough and I had to see, feel and hear with my own eyes to truly garner that experience.
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
One, I always let myself go there. I mean, I do my best not to pretend I am not affected by self-doubt or adversity — I vent, I rant, and then I remind myself what effect adversity has on me — it makes me push even harder to prove that I can and I will get it done. I guess I’m giving away a trade secret here, but one of the best ways to motivate me is to tell me it can’t be done. So once I find my way through “my moment,” I put on some high-energy music and dance around the office and move on.
What are you afraid of?
Not being a good enough mom to my amazing daughter, Goldie. I push myself at work and push myself at home, always looking for the secret sauce of patience and love for my girl. Clearly, it doesn't always work. In my mind, being a good mom is not just being a caregiver but also inspiring her to see all that she is capable of, and letting nothing stand in her way. For me, that means I am pursuing my dreams too, showing her, through more than words, that anything is possible.
Is there a piece of advice you’ve received that brought you to who you are and the meaningful work you do today?
A long time ago, when I was just a teenager, after a heartbreaking blow of not receiving some award, I was walking outside feeling sorry for myself. One of my coaches came up to me and told me that I didn’t get that award because I didn’t need it, that I had the heart and confidence I needed to get big things done, that others need that award to help them find their confidence. Fast-forward almost 30 years and I can remember that night and those words like it was yesterday. Not only did it give me even more confidence in who I am, but it also taught me to recognize when others need those words of support to help them find their voice. Being a leader is trying to see your team’s strengths and challenges, and know when they need you to help lift them up.
With a goal of gaining knowledge and experience, Tamara spent the first 20 years of her career working throughout the US and internationally for ARAMARK. She led hospitality organizations in Alaska, Ohio and California, before hiring on to the ARAMARK International Team providing food services to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2010 Asian Games, and 2012 London Olympics. In her experiences, Tamara has managed thousands of people from all walks of life, and led teams to be successful through great adversity.
In 2019, Tamara became the President of Itasca Economic Development Corporation in Grand Rapids, MN. Since then she has led her team through an extensive series of projects to support her community, including a $1 million emergency loan program, facilitating grant programs for Itasca County businesses in 2020 for more than $2.5 Million, and driving extensive outreach and support for local businesses. In 2020 EDAM honored Tamara with the Innovation Award, one of their Excellence in Economic Development Awards.
Tamara resides rural Minnesota with her husband and daughter. They love small town life and are very active in their community.
Featured alongside Tamara are:
- Co-Executive Director of the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) LeAnn Littlewolf
- Executive Director of the Duluth Art Institute Christina Woods
- Co-Executive Director of Voices for Ethnic and Multicultural Awareness (VEMA) Seraphia Gravelle (Aguallo)
- President of the Bush Foundation Jennifer Ford Reedy
- President and CEO of Northspan Elissa Hansen
- Executive Director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority Deb Deluca
Read more of our stories in Issue 22 of Lake and Company.