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A rising star: Chamber tourism director recognized with special award by Iowa Travel Industry Partners

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO — Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce Tourism Director Dylan Does, front, was recently recognized as the Iowa Travel Industry Partners “Rising Star” for medium sized markets during an awards ceremony in Sioux City on June 11.

Dylan Does has traversed around the country and lived in multiple states, but he’s never found a place he’s more passionate about than the community where he grew up and made the decision to return to almost a decade ago — Marshalltown.

In March 2023, Does took over as the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce’s tourism director, and that’s another decision he counts among the best he’s ever made. His impact has been felt well outside of the city limits, and the Iowa Travel Industry Partners (ITIP), a statewide organization, recently recognized Does as the “Rising Star” for medium markets during an awards ceremony held in Sioux City last Tuesday.

The Rising Star award recognizes an individual “new to the Iowa tourism industry within the past five years who has demonstrated leadership, commitment, and passion for the Iowa travel industry.”

“Dylan earning this recognition shows that we have the right person in the right seat for our tourism efforts. I couldn’t be more proud of the significant efforts he has made, not only locally, but the time and energy he has spent with other leaders throughout the State of Iowa,” Chamber President/CEO John Hall said. “Clearly those leaders have recognized Dylan’s strengths and have awarded him with this recognition that is absolutely deserved!”

Does joked that at the age of 42, the designation made him feel young again — one colleague even dubbed him “The Dad Bod Rising Star” — and he’s happy to be ascending at this point in his life after changing careers a few times over the years, most recently working for Habitat for Humanity out of Waterloo before taking the Chamber job.

Some of those skills he previously gained, he said, have translated well into his new job and helped him through the launch of initiatives like Meet in Marshalltown/Nos Vemos en Marshalltown and the successful campaign to host the eSports state tournament at the Orpheum Black Box Theater downtown.

“Especially in the last decade, my goal is ‘How can I invest in the hometown that made me?’ And what I said is (that) I may be the 42-year-old rising star, but really why I was there was the 170-year-old rising star (Marshalltown),” he said. “We have that history of innovation in the manufacturing space and a lot of different places, but then you look at (the fact that) we could’ve quit after getting punched in the face with a tornado, derecho, pandemic, all the things, but really, what’s come out of that is there’s a lot of incredible things happening.”

A few examples were the Iowa River’s Edge Trail, with the city of Marshalltown leading a $12 million federal grant application, the Apgar Family Water Plaza and downtown revitalization, making it “a pretty easy story to tell,” in his view. And while the community may not necessarily be synonymous with tourism in most people’s minds, to borrow a phrase that Does has used himself, it’s much more than just Disney World and destination weddings.

While the award is an individual recognition, Does hopes it serves as evidence of the positive momentum building all over the community through all types of people and attractions.

“I’m telling stories of what everyone else is doing, so this award is really a representation of all the work and commitment everyone else is doing,” he said.

Coming into the job when he did, Does added, was the result of “divine orchestration,” as he felt that his predecessor, Andrew Potter (who’s now with the Marshalltown YMCA/YWCA) led the tourism efforts strongly despite the challenges of COVID.

“He was able to really solidify that and provide some of that journalistic piece that was definitely needed there, and for me, as things had opened up and projects started to go, I really believe that tourism, at the core, is storytelling, and there is no better story than something in the process,” Does said. “And so I feel like my skill set, as things are coming up and coming together, I really believe it intersected at the perfect time.”

Does described himself as “a 14-year boomerang,” having left at 19 to go to college (eventually earning a degree in theology from Vennard College, a now defunct liberal arts school in University Park near Oskaloosa) and spending an extended period of time in central Washington, where their youngest child was born.

“We really love that area, but I didn’t realize how Iowan I was until I wasn’t in Iowa, so just the civic responsibility — Lewis and Clark is still alive out there. It’s every man for himself. In many respects, there wasn’t this real focus on community,” he said. “What my wife and I both hold really dear is (that) we have one life to invest, and we wanted to come back.”

When they made the decision to return, they only looked at houses in the Rogers Elementary school district, and Does, who previously led the Community Foundation of Marshall County and founded Restore Church, now owns the place where his own kindergarten teacher once resided. He wanted his kids to interact with a diverse cross section of the local population, and his wife, although she grew up mostly in the Twin Cities, now considers Marshalltown her hometown.

The chance to correct what he felt to be inaccurate stories told about the community was another major reason Does decided to take the tourism job. While the launch of the bilingual tourism identity and Marshalltown’s emergence as “The Mecca of Mario” in the eSports realm have already gained plenty of attention and ink, Does is also proud of some other highlights of his tenure like working with Jake Reynolds at Black Iron Barbell and Karl Auto Group on a powerlifting competition, the revamp of the Fourth of July celebration and being featured in the Central Iowa Tourism Magazine for a piece called “48 Hours in Marshalltown.”

“It’s a lot of those things that I get really excited about. Being able to share Marshalltown at the state tourism conference, that was really impactful,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to be a tour guide since I was a little kid. When we were at the Chamber (banquet), I saw six different people that our office — myself and often Kate Bowermaster — had helped (with) their recruiting tour, and they each spoke on how important those tours were. So those are kind of the under the radar (things). We’ve had some of the bigger ones, but there’s a lot of these things that happen that may seem smaller on the outside. But they still have a huge impact.”

All of the success and accolades in the first year plus will be hard to top, but as Does put it, this is an ongoing story, not a novella. He’s got plenty left in the tank and a lot more goals left to accomplish — including claiming the title of “The Red, White and Blue Capital of Iowa,” especially in light of the new veterans memorial in progress at the courthouse, bringing the Meskwaki Nation (Iowa’s only resident Native American tribe) further into the fold in the future and building on the “Mecca of Mario” moniker.

“We’re really just setting our direction. We haven’t reached our destination,” he said.

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Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or rmaharry@timesrepublican.com.

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