truth about work is that nearly every employee can be replaced, and those who
can’t can have their positions eliminated.
Kathy Kopp, however, may be the closest thing to irreplaceable in Platteville given her 27 years as executive director of the Platteville Regional Chamber, for nearly half of the chamber’s existence.
Kopp will retire Feb. 14, three days after the chamber’s 57th Annual Celebration and Arthur B. Virtue Awards.
“I really feel it’s time for me to step down and to let someone new that’s passionate about the community. It’s time for new ideas, new energy, maybe new connections,” she said. “I have no regrets at all. None. It will be bittersweet because I absolutely love that I’ve been doing; I still do.”
Kopp took over as the chamber director on a one-year trial basis in 1992. She was on the chamber board while it was purchasing its current location on West Business 151, only to find out the chamber was in financial difficulties that were bad enough for the chamber to consider deincorporation.
Among the chamber’s accomplishments during her 27 years: chamber membership has more than doubled.
“I tried to retire two years ago,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of that paperwork in order, those procedures. My goal is to make this as smooth as possible in working with the staff on procedure manuals and a road map for events, programs, etc.
“The board’s goal is to have someone in place by the first of the year. They have a solid plan in place,” including a search and screen group.
That person will have huge shoes to fill, given the chamber’s and Platteville’s business growth since she took over as the chamber’s director.
The list Kopp gave of accomplishments includes three organizations, the Platteville Community Arboretum, the Platteville Community Fund, and Building Platteville. She was involved in bringing the Vietnam Moving Wall to Platteville, which became the impetus for the Veterans Honor Roll in City Park.
The chamber was heavily involved with the Chicago Bears when the Bears held training camp at UW–Platteville. Platteville also won a nationwide contest to hold Disney’s Mickey’s Hometown Parade on Independence Day 1998. Momentum from that event led to the creation of Hometown Festival Week, now nine days of events.
The chamber got the state to name it the local Travel Wisconsin Welcome Center after the Welcome Center at the U.S. 61/151/Wisconsin 11/35 interchange was closed in 2009.
Kopp also helped start the Grant County Tourism Council. She is completing her last term on the Governor’s Tourism Council.
Another accomplishment is right outside Kopp’s office window — Katie’s Garden, which originally “looked like a pasture that wasn’t tended” before work started in July 2004 after the death of chamber student employee Katie Vaassen at 23 years old.
“The demands on your time with this position … maybe I went a little overboard with it, but it demands time and commitment,” she said. “I feel like I’ve worked tremendously hard to build this organization to where it’s at, and the last thing I want to do is see the organization falter.”
The process itself will also be a challenge since, Kopp said, “There’s not one member of the board who has gone through this process.”
Her number one qualification for her job: “A passion for Platteville.”
She then added someone “who can build relationships, profit and nonprofit,” “someone that’s able to see the big picture,” “a sense of potential,” and “the ability to put on events that improve the quality of life here, gives people things to do and that makes it easier for employers to recruit employees.”
Kopp didn’t have any chamber management experience other than being a chamber volunteer before she was hired. “It’s my sense that they don’t pigeonhole [the position] too much, but that’ll be a board decision,” she said.
Kopp and her husband, Joe, have four children and nine grandchildren spread throughout the U.S. They may be gone from Platteville more often after her retirement, but they’re not leaving Platteville.
“Joe and I are born and raised Platteville people, and we will die Platteville people,” she said.