DIXON – In a region rededicating itself to economic growth through the collaborative efforts of business leaders and educators, new Small Business Development Center Executive Director Stacy McCaskill would seem to be a perfect fit.
McCaskill, 52, calls herself a serial entrepreneur, but she loves academia, having taught in five countries. For several years, she worked in procurement and taught in China, becoming fluent in Mandarin. She’s launched enterprises in in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.
McCaskill, who grew up in a small town near Youngstown, Ohio, can’t remember a time when she didn’t love business.
“My dad had his own business, McCaskill Drywall, and I was working for him and doing the books at 12 years old,” McCaskill said.
Religion also became a big part of her life at an early age, and she started her college career at Cedarville University, a small Baptist school in Ohio. That was where her love of China was ignited.
“I was on the basketball team at Cedarville, and our team went on a mission trip to China. It was still very much communist China then, but I knew I wanted to come back someday, McCaskill said.
She received her bachelor’s degree in business and then completed work for a master of business administration degree at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix, Arizona.
She then picked up another MBA in human resource development from University of St. Thomas, focusing on cross-cultural training and diversity. Religion continued to be a driving force in her life, leading her to the Chicago Theological Seminary for a year of study. Then it was on to Northeastern University to work on a doctorate in international business.
Her most recent job had been as an associate professor of business at Rock Valley College in Rockford, but after being caught up in a round of budget cuts and layoffs, she found herself at a crossroads. She moved to her second home in the Florida Keys and focused on her business pursuits.
One of those was Fishwithme.net Corp., a web-based business she had launched in 2015. The business was born of her love for fishing, a passion she shares with her mother. Her mom winters in the Keys and was the inspiration for the enterprise.
“She kept telling me that it was hard to find fishing buddies and it was expensive to take a boat out on a fixed income. So I thought there had to be an Uber for anglers, but there wasn’t,” McCaskill said.
So she developed an app to connect fishing buddies who could pool their resources as needed for trips.
After narrowly averting disaster during a punishing hurricane season, she decided it was time to come home. Although she continued to work with youth on business development while in Florida, she missed working in an educational setting.
“I looked at the job description at Sauk and I immediately knew it was for me,” McCaskill said.
Diversity is an important part of McCaskill’s life, both professionally and personally. In 2007, she and her wife, Ronda DeVold, a veterinarian, launched Reconciling Journey Ministries, a nonprofit serving gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning Christians.
“I grew up in a very small town in a conservative Christian family, and we are both still conservative Christians,” McCaskill said. “We want to help other GLBTQ men, women and youth find reconciling relationships with God, family and community.”
McCaskill has been on the job since June 18, filling the vacancy created by the retirement of David Buchen. Buchen had overseen the rebirth of the SBDC at Sauk since its opening in March 2016, after a nearly decade-long hiatus.
Sauk President David Hellmich said Buchen did a good job of getting the SBDC on solid ground, setting the table for his successor to maximize her skill set.
“Stacy has a wealth of experience in business and education, so I believe she is a perfect fit,” Hellmich said. “I think the biggest piece she brings is her understanding of 21st century e-commerce, and that’s very important to businesses in the Sauk Valley.”
Hellmich learned early on that McCaskill’s energy switch is stuck on high.
“Before she even started, I mentioned that she should introduce herself to Stacey Colledge at Dixon Main Street, and she told me she’d already met her,” Hellmich said. “That happened time and again – she was already out there broadly connecting before her first day.”
Hellmich and McCaskill aim to change the perception that the SBDC is just for new businesses. While about 70 percent of its client base is startups, the office is working with existing businesses on everything from rebranding and social media to financial issues, logistics and exit strategies.
The staff of four has a combined 55 years of experience in business development. Boosting the number of clients and consulting hours are key metrics for an office that depends on grants for half of its funding. The rest of its financial support comes from a combination of banks, cities, counties and other stakeholders.
While McCaskill’s web-tech expertise will be unleashed, she understands it must be balanced with good old-fashioned human interaction.
“Social media is a brand-builder, today’s Yellow Pages, but to build a sustainable base, we need to utilize digital technology and be active and engaged in the community,” McCaskill said.
A second newsletter, “Biz Hacks”, has been started and a live Facebook feed carries business tips and techniques at 4 p.m. every Monday. The first newsletter, “Director’s Cut”, targets SBDC supporters such as campus leaders and financial donors. An events calendar will soon be published that will include an ag summit in December and an Innovation Challenge next spring.