New Director Aims to Create a Culture of Collaboration

10 May 2016

Building a culture of cooperation and partnerships is a priority for PCDC’s new Executive Director Ron Tillery.

During his 17 years leading economic development efforts in Buffalo County, he helped attract and establish major businesses and attractions to the area, including Xpanxion Software, Chief Agri and the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument.

But, Tillery said the accomplishment he’s most proud of is helping develop a culture of collaboration.

“It’s a culture that was developed by continually building partnerships and collaborations,” he said. “We learned how to work together to make things happen. Sometimes, you set aside your own personal ideas and goals and find a way to work together for the common goal. It’s something that gains momentum, and it’s pretty powerful.”

Tillery hopes to build that sort of culture when he begins work as PCDC’s new executive director at the end of May.

He will be leaving his position as executive director of the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce, a job he has held for the past six years, and is looking forward to being closer to friends and family in the Holdrege area.

His son, Sean, operates the Nebraska Skydiving School and Skydive Atlas in Holdrege. His two daughters Heather Wolf, and Kristen Dawson live in Kearney, along with a grandson, Alex, and another grandchild on the way this fall.  

“That’s obviously one of the motivating factors that encouraged me to apply for this position,” Tillery said of his family. He’s looking forward to watching his grandson’s Little League games and seeing his children more often. He also has a son, Andy, who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Tillery grew up and graduated from high school in St. John, Kan., which is about 200 miles south of Holdrege on Highway 183. His father was a butcher and grocery store manager, and Tillery started working at the store at age 11 and has worked ever since.

“I’m really thankful for the values and the upbringing that I received growing up in a small Middle American town,” Tillery said.

Tillery was drafted into the U.S. Air Force after high school, where he was trained in data processing and special weapons management. He served in Minot, ND, and then in Okinawa, Japan, with the Arc Light Mission in the Vietnam War.

After being honorably discharged from service, Tillery was planning to finish his college degree but was instead hired as a graphic artist at a television station in Texas, where his brother worked as a reporter.

“I got hired unexpectedly as a graphic artist, and that’s how I began my television career,” Tillery said.

For 25 years, Tillery worked in television as a graphic artist, then in promotions and then as a station manager. He and a friend in the business purchased the NTV station near Axtell in 1986.

They sold the station just four years later, but Tillery wanted to stay in Kearney.

“I really became rooted in the community and I didn’t want to leave,” he said. “The thing that I learned when I came to Kearney was that I enjoyed being connected and being a part of the development in a community.”

He found the perfect career match when he was hired as the president and CEO of The Economic Development Council of Buffalo County.

“Playing a role in developing a community and making things happen, that’s just the most gratifying thing I could think of,” Tillery said. “It is a lasting contribution if you do it right.”

Tillery is now looking forward to building relationships and being involved in community life in Phelps County.

“I am really going to enjoy spending more time with my family and their families,” Tillery said. “In Holdrege, what I see is an opportunity to really be connected. In a lot of ways, the community will be part of my family, too.”

Until a recent injury forced him to stop running, Tillery enjoyed jogging and competing in 10Ks and 5Ks. He has logged more than 20,000 miles in his running career.

Tillery also enjoys volunteering for community events, such as high school track meets, and sometimes enjoys a round of golf.

“I play golf only when there are very patient people around me,” he said.

Tillery said his first order of business when he begins work at PCDC in late May will be to meet with PCDC investors and staff, civic leaders and service clubs and get to know people in the community. He’ll also delve into learning about the strategies and goals that PCDC has been working on.

“Holdrege is a terrific community,” Tillery said. “It’s got all the major infrastructure of the community – the schools, the Y, the downtown core, the hospital. Everything is ready and just shows so well. I think Holdrege is primed for success. The community has invested so much already into making Holdrege a clean and wonderful community. I’m excited being a part of that and anxious to get started. I’m going to approach this with some urgency and try to get some things done.”

By Kristine Jacobson for PCDC