By Candice Wagener
Kim Jones has been known to wear headbands “with bobbly things on top” at work. They help her keep perspective, which is critical in her role as airport director at the Dane County Regional Airport (DCRA). Here, she manages 80 staff and oversees an average of 250 airplane departures per week and overall operations for 3,000 acres of land shared between civil and military services.
Beyond the everyday challenges of running a small-hub airport, Jones is also at the helm of an $85 million expansion, as well as navigating concerns around PFAS contamination — also known as forever chemicals — and F-35 fighter jets. So, she dons the occasional fun hair accessory.
As early as high school, she had aspirations of becoming “an executive director somewhere in some place.” After a stint at the Des Moines International Airport, she realized opportunities for advancement were few and far between, so she took a position at the DCRA in 2004. She immediately fell in love with the airport, a passion which led to her promotion to airport director in 2018. “Airports have a way of getting into your blood,” says Jones, about her love of the job.
The airline industry was hit extra-hard during the pandemic. At one point in April 2020, Condé Nast Traveler reported that U.S. air passenger traffic was down by a staggering 95% from the year prior. With 60% of DCRA’s pre-COVID passengers considered as “business travelers,” the airport has yet to see a complete rebound from the recent uptick nationally in leisure travel.
Reflecting on that bleak amount of foot traffic during the pandemic, Jones viewed it as an opportunity to perform necessary maintenance tasks and continue expansion plans. And while many industries switched to working remotely, that’s not really feasible for airport staff.
“Whether you have 62 people or 3,000 people [coming through the airport daily], you need to have restrooms cleaned, floors cleaned. Plus, now they need to be sanitized in ways they never had been before … it’s very difficult to do a lot of the things we do from home,” says Jones. “My thought and philosophy on that was if my staff was here working, I’m going to be here working as well.”
Looking ahead, Jones has a firm belief that all travel through DCRA will bounce back to beyond what it was before, as more people feel compelled to seize the opportunity while they can. She and her team have been working to increase the presence of DCRA, getting out in the community and reestablishing relationships with local business partners, including Destination Madison and the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.
And Jones has made it her mission that DCRA be top of mind for more travelers, which is why she’s excited for the updated, expanded airport, which will also enhance accessibility for everyone. She compliments her team on staying positive and being forward-thinking. The philosophy she has used to drive her team during these challenging times seems to have stuck.
“The present will be the past within 24 hours, so let’s keep looking forward.”
How have you been able to achieve a work-life balance that works for you?
“I think we have to be realistic that work-life balance is always going to be just that: a balancing act. There are times when things at work are going to be more important from a time expendi- ture standpoint — but your family always comes first. There are times when your family can function and you need to spend a little more time at your job. [And] there will be other times when your family needs more of your time. Whether it’s for 10 minutes or 10 hours, you have to be able to turn off the work when you come home.”
– Kim Jones