Before she became a city government leader nearly 20 years ago, Kim Downs began her career as a social worker. She said the two occupations aren’t all that different.
“They’re both about making connections and finding resources,” she said.
After obtaining a two-year degree from Kirkwood Community College, Downs spent the first three years of her career working for several human services agencies in the Cedar Rapids area, including Tanager Place and the Area Substance Abuse Council.
She then transitioned to city government as the city clerk for Ryan, Iowa.
In 2005, Downs joined the city of Hiawatha as city clerk. During her eight-year tenure in that role, she obtained Master Municipal Clerk designation through the International Institute of Municipal Clerks and implemented many of the institute’s best practices for efficient city government.
She also went back to school to obtain a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary administration from Mount Mercy University in 2008, an accomplishment she achieved while working full-time and raising a family.
In 2016, she earned an M.B.A. from the University of Dubuque.
In 2013, Hiawatha’s mayor and city council unanimously selected Downs for the position of city administrator. The first woman to serve in that role in Hiawatha’s history, Downs now oversees all city department heads, including the police and fire chiefs.
“I touch so many people, from the city council and my team members to nonprofit organizations and businesses in the community,” she noted.
“Connecting people with the resources they need is the most rewarding aspect of my job.”
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In her role, Downs has worked with Kirkwood Community College and local business leaders to connect students with internship opportunities, developed a resource group for women entrepreneurs to connect with each other, and convenes monthly meetings of city administrators from around Linn County and the Cedar Rapids metropolitan area to discuss common human resources issues and opportunities.
Also, through her service on the Iowa League of Cities board, Downs has established relationships with state legislators and government department heads that have benefited both Hiawatha and the entire metro area.
Her efforts with the Iowa Department of Transportation recently secured funding for the construction of the Tower Terrace interchange.
“We had to get in front of the DOT, so I put a plan in place to network with the local DOT and tell our story,” she said. “That’s what a lot of city government is about — telling your story and celebrating the positive.”
Downs’s career success has come despite personal struggles. At age 27, with a three year old at home and another baby on the way, she was widowed when her husband died in a work-related accident. She remarried, and her second husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, leaving him unable to work.
“Sometimes I think I’ve lived life more than others,” she said. “But those experiences made me who I am today. They made me know what I can do.”
Business 380 each month spotlights HER magazine’s Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.