Home Sweet Home, Opelika

Liberal Arts alumnus Ken Ward adding fresh perspective to Opelika Main Street

Published: December 20, 2019
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Nestled behind the Opelika Chamber of Commerce sits a small grey building with a large round sign by the door that reads, “Main Street.”

Knock on the door, step inside and from the first office on your left soon comes a welcoming greeting of “hello.” Sitting in his office freshly adorned with Auburn mementos, three diplomas and multiple awards all from Auburn University, is Ken Ward, Opelika Main Street’s new executive director.

Ward was hired into this position in June fresh out of college as an Auburn graduate. Ward received his bachelor’s degrees in journalism and political science and a master’s degree in public administration.

A Montgomery native and Auburn alumnus active in community development, Ward said the position in Opelika seemed to be a good fit.

“I just thought it was a great opportunity to work in a community that is thriving and has a lot of good things going for it,” Ward said.

Ward credits his college involvement, both inside and outside of the classroom, with helping to make a smooth transition into the new position.

“The work I was able to do at Auburn really made that transition a lot easier. I felt like a lot of the things we did in our classes and things I’ve done such as working on creating projects, dealing with administration and stakeholders with SGA while running an organization with Eagle Eye, made it a smooth transition. And I really appreciate that, getting those skills early on,” Ward said.

Since June, Ward has worked on projects including Opelika’s inaugural craft beer festival, Opelika Main Street on Tap, which Ward says was the first time Opelika Main Street had ever hosted this kind of event.

“I had to ‘invent the wheel,’ so to speak, on that event because unlike many of our other events that had been going on for several years, the craft beer event had never occurred,” Ward said.

Roughly six months on the job, Ward has since learned the value of small steps making a big difference in the community.

“What I’ve learned on the job is some of the complexities of working in a real-world office environment and things like that. I’ve also learned about some of the great benefits you can get from working: the relationships you’re able to build, the great new people you’re able to meet and the ways that even small projects are able to yield big dividends in a community,” Ward said.

Some of those “small projects” include the implementation of a new newsletter capturing the events going on downtown and working to ensure online provides an easy user guide for prospective business owners who want to open a store downtown.

“Each and every day, we see downtown growing in some way, shape, or form; whether it be new improvements, helping a business owner through a facade grant, sprucing up a business, working with some of our developers to help them attract new businesses to the growing parts of downtown... a lot of those little things really start to add up into helping ensure that our downtown continues to stay successful now, and then for years to come,” said Ward.

Ward is currently working on some bigger projects which mainly focus on long-term improvements such as adding more public art to the downtown area and ensuring that new businesses that come to the area complement existing ones.

“In a year from now, I’m really wanting Opelika Main Street to be not only a resource for business owners, but a resource for the city as a whole. We also want to make sure that everybody in our city feels included and wanting to be a part of our downtown, and that we're reaching all different people in our community as well. When a community has a strong downtown, it can be felt in almost every neighborhood, along every street, and in every business area. And so we really want to bring awareness to the benefits for our downtown,” Ward said.

From Montgomery to Auburn all the way to the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C., Ward says there is just something special about Opelika.

“I think the real draw is that this area has seen a renaissance over the past 20 or so years. Opelika's done an amazing job of making sure not only we see that growth in our downtown, and the growth in more innovative, different businesses, and things of that nature, but also, we've done a great job of maintaining the history and heritage in our downtown that brings that character alive,” Ward said.

It’s because of these things that Opelika is where you will find Ward, out and about downtown with his fellow community in the years to come.

“I think Opelika's on the cusp of a lot of great new things. And I would love to be a part of a little bit of that growth in helping our entrepreneurs and our leaders really capitalize on a lot of the great things happening in this community,” Ward said.

For Ward, it’s home sweet home, Opelika.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.