Linnea Nelson is giving young adults the work ethic they need to be successful in their future careers, and for her dedication to the development of the future workforce as well as her community, has been named the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year for 2012.
Nelson puts in 45 to 50 hours every week, including weekends and holidays, as the manager of the Berkot's Super Foods Wilmington store. She supervises 52 employees, nearly half of which are teens.
Although she's been in the position just over two years, she's already made her mark on the community-focused business and the town she now calls home.
NASCAR races brought Nelson and her husband to the area, and a friend in the Island City provided accommodations. The couple liked the community, and decided it was hometown material. Her husband transferred to his company's Chicago office, and Nelson started looking for a new job.
She had been the store manager for McDonald's in Fargo and Morehead, ND. After relocating she applied for a job with Berkot's, and was hired. A few months of training in Coal City and Mokena later, she was offered the position of manager of the Wilmington store.
McDonald's has a well-defined set of standards, policies and procedures that Nelson integrated into her managerial style, and Berkot's has implemented some of them as well. The result is a blend that means the store's young employees aren't just stocking shelves or running a cash register. They're learning skills that will benefit them in any job they choose to do - they're taught to be responsible, have a good work ethic, handle money and hold customer service in the highest regard.
"Customer service is number one," she explained. "My employees say hello, they greet every customer with a smile on their face."
Each employee knows what is expected of him or her. They're encouraged to take ownership of their job. Nelson also believes it's important to build a personal relationship her employees. She makes a point to know what's important in their lives and what challenges they might face - she's mother, best friend and life coach.
"Having a good relationship with your employees, getting to know things about them helps you interact with them, and you get a better work ethic out of them," Nelson said. She also tries to motivate her teen employees to go back to school and to figure out a plan for their lives.
Nelson has overseen almost $16,000 in sponsorships, gift cards and product donations in the community. She coordinates with local organizations to collect monetary or product donations outside of the store, providing those groups an additional opportunity to reach their desired goals. The organizations supported includes the Wilmington Fire Protection District, Knights of Columbus, Wilmington Wildcat cheerleading and the Illinois Veterans food Drive.
Nelson was selected from nine nominees. She becomes the 14th Business Person of the Year, and will be the grand marshal of the Winter Wonderland Lighted Christmas Parade, which steps off from the middle school campus Saturday, Nov. 24, at 5 p.m. The parade, which signals Santa's official arrival in Wilmington, marches north on Water Street and ends at Van Buren Street.
Nelson will light the community Christmas tree at approximately 5:30 p.m.
"I think it's a wonderful honor to be Business Person of the Year," she concluded. "It's a fantastic honor. I'm happy and elated."