PRINCETON — The Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce Board has selected Autumn Kirk as the city’s new chamber and tourism executive director.
Kirk, 42, while a native to the central Illinois area, currently resides in Hilton Head Island, S.C., where she is a design center director for Ethan Allen.
She will be relocating to Princeton where she plans to begin her new role on Monday, Feb. 3. Kirk replaces Kim Frey, whose last day on the job is Friday, Feb. 14.
Kirk is no stranger to the area. She has family and strong ties to Bureau County and is looking to get back to her roots. For the last several years, she said she’s been actively searching for a career in the area that would support what she wants to do in a place that has a strong sense of community.
Over the years, Kirk said she has visited Princeton numerous times. She said her first impression of Princeton was that it was “a wonderful town” that has a strong sense of community she was seeking.
“They celebrate one another, they celebrate the children, they celebrate life and they celebrate being a part of something together. That sense of community is what sets Princeton apart from others,” she said.
Kirk earned a degree in political science from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. After college, she went to work as a project manager for a wind turbine company. After a few years, she moved to Austin, Texas, where she left the wind energy company and landed a job at a global publishing company working as a global demands planner for schools in the U.S. She worked with companies like Barnes and Noble and Borders in planning school demands.
Life led her to South Carolina 11 years ago. It was there Kirk made the decision to go back to school for interior design, which led to her starting up her own interior design company. Her business started out through word of mouth, one project led to the other.
She ended up winning a LightHouse Award, and her business took off. She eventually accepted a position with Ethan Allan as a design center director, managing interior designers.
While she’s enjoyed her time with Ethan Allen, it’s always been a goal to move closer to home and family and be a part of the Midwest again, she said.
“I grew up in a small town, I’m a small town girl, and while cities have a lot to offer and I enjoy visiting them, that’s not where I want to spend the rest of my life. I want to spend the rest of my life in a place like Princeton where I know the people and I know the area,” she said.
‘A great fit’ for Princeton
Princeton Chamber Board President Derek Fetzer said Kirk quickly rose to the top during the interview process.
“The board feels she was a great fit based on her past experience, personality and strong leadership skills we think she possesses,” he said.
Aside from her career with Ethan Allen, Kirk also has been a member of the Education Foundation of the Home Builders Association, which raises money for scholarships. She’s also been a member of the American Marketing Association, American Society of Interior Designers. She volunteered with Girls Scouts, her local humane society, food pantry, Junior League and Dress for Success, which assists young women in writing a cover letter and résumé and teaches them how to conduct themselves in an interview.
Kirk said when the Princeton Chamber of Commerce director position became available, she jumped for it.
“It’s a leadership position where I can help the community, help business owners and find ways to bring revenue into an area to help it thrive and shine,” she said. “Princeton, to me, is a diamond. It’s a beautiful community. The people are lovely. Every business owner I’ve been blessed to meet has been exceptional, and Princeton is the kind of community I want to be a part of.”
Kirk believes the experiences and organizations she’s been involved in professionally will help her succeed at the chamber.
One of the things she’s hoping to do first while on the job is get to know as many business owners and community members as possible.
“I know a good number just from visiting, but there are so many more to visit,” she said. “I want to bring more businesses into the chamber and help them see what a benefit it is to be a part of the chamber.”
Kirk said she’s already planning to do a video shoot of Princeton and submit to an HGTV contest, that is currently seeking small-town applicants. The winner receives thousands of dollars for a renovation project meant to add value to the area and showcase the town.
“I think Princeton deserves it and I think I would make a great video. And why not? I’m a big believer and it never hurts to ask. I’m going to take the shot,” she said. “I’m honored to have been chosen to represent such a wonderful community of people.”