Carolyn Bogott: Olson reaches out to welcome people to Austin
Did you know that Austin is one of the few cities in the whole country to have a concierge program?
Usually, we only think of a hotel concierge, a person who assists guests with information and reservations. Kristen Olson’s role as Austin’s community concierge is somewhat parallel, but also includes help in recruitment and retention of professional talent to our community. She works to showcase our town to prospective new professionals and then to help make their transition to life in Austin easier. Working with 1500 people over seven years, Kristen has a warm and welcoming manner that has brought great success to this program. Her services are free to any local business or to any new professional person.
It is clear that Kristen loves her work. This people-loving woman says she has the “best job ever!” She gets referrals from Hormel, Mayo Clinic Health Systems, and other companies when they are bringing prospective employees to town. Other newcomers just stop in the Chamber of Commerce office for information about moving here and are referred to her.
Kristen tries to create an experience for them that they won’t forget.
This often starts with a 90-minute community tour, which includes visiting Austin’s downtown and other major venues to discuss shopping, restaurants, schools, parks and other special features of our town. That is followed by a visit to some of our neighborhoods and housing developments. Kristen says that people are usually amazed at what Austin has to offer. A newcomer recently stated, “You have shown me that there are an amazing number of things going on here in what at first looks to be a small town.” At the end of the tour, she presents a relocation packet and a welcome bag containing business advertising and trinkets from participating sponsors. Before she leaves them, she offers help with finding a realtor or rental housing, getting children enrolled in school, and connecting with community activities. Then by email, she serves as a continuing resource.
Another important feature of this concierge role is to help the “trailing spouse” to find employment here. Kristen is proud to say she has found placements for 60 spouses of new professionals who have used this service. She works with Chamber members to “open doors” for these spouses. She is very grateful for the support and assistance she receives from colleagues and chamber members in order to make these connections happen and to the program’s major sponsors, Hormel Foods, The Hormel Foundation and Mayo Clinic Health System, for their financial support.
In an effort to keep people in Austin, Kristen says, “I encourage all professional newcomers to watch for invitations to our ‘Awesome Austin’ events and to consider attending some of them so that they see more of Austin and meet other new professionals.” Becoming engaged in the community and developing friendships is often key to making people feel at home. The Awesome Austin events she arranges are good at making this happen and have included Nature Center activities, Bruins games, painting and yoga sessions in the park, to name a few. During Covid times, Kristen has found creative ways to solve social distancing challenges, such as caravanning on community tours using her speakerphone or offering Zoom events. Her ongoing Zoom book club features virtual visits from the authors (books provided by Sweet Reads) and her virtual wine tasting party featured wine tasting kits provided by HyVee. She knows she has succeeded when a newcomer says, “I met my new best friend at one of your events!”
It is clear that it has taken the right person with wonderful organizational and people skills, to say nothing of an eye for detail, to make this all happen to benefit our community. We salute you, Kristen Olson, for serving Austin in this way!
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