Behind the Curtain: A Community Q&A with Market Research Manager Steven Jones

Behind the Curtain: A Community Q&A with Market Research Manager Steven Jones Main Photo

31 May 2024

Blog, News

By official count, Steven has been our Market Research Manager for just over three years. But if you include contract work ­­– and why wouldn’t you, in this day and age? – he just became a five-year veteran of Grapevine Economic Development.

You may recognize him as the host of the ‘Growing Grapevine’ podcast, the voice behind this blog and our social media accounts, or even from our department’s presentation on Christmas visitation at a recent City Council meeting. He has a hand in almost all of the content we post, including our recent series of FAQs with Garin Giacomarro and Ana Erwin, so it only seemed right to give you a peek behind the curtain of our marketing efforts. 

In the spirit of those who tackled your questions before him, here’s our Community Q&A with Steven Jones.

Q: You worked at 6 Stones Mission Network before coming here… what was it like to transition from a non-profit role into this one?

Steven Jones and 6 Stones Executive Director Jennifer Leney await the winners of the nonprofit's annual intramural soccer league for at-risk youth.

A: I joined the team at a wild time. My wife, Lauren, had just become my fiancée and I had started to transition out of my role as Communications Coordinator at 6 Stones. Both the City and my old nonprofit graciously allowed me to hold two positions at once: I dropped to Part-Time at the latter to train my replacement and took on a contract role here in Economic Development, mostly building case studies and gearing up for the narrative-based marketing strategy we use today. It was a “prove yourself” arrangement with no guarantee of an official position, and the COVID-19 pandemic hit right in the middle of the contract window. And about two weeks after my wedding.

Understandably, my role changed dramatically over the next few years. We went from researching workforce solutions and writing white papers on a highly competitive job market to supporting local businesses in the midst of a completely different labor crisis. Now, we’re looking at closing out a decades-long development opportunity with City-owned land and preparing for the next phase of (re)development in Grapevine. So in some ways, the daily uncertainty of nonprofit life trained me for the tumultuous early years of my career in Grapevine. Perhaps more importantly, I was used to working with a limited budget. Even with the City’s commitment to fiscal responsibility, I had more resources than ever before, so we were able to strike a nice balance between doing good work and not overdoing anything. That first year, we cut the marketing budget by 41% but increased web visits by over 60%. 

Cindy J. asks (via Facebook): “How did you convince them to let you have a podcast?”

From the minute I discovered podcasts like Revisionist History and This American Life, I knew I wanted to play in that space. My first job out of college was at CBS Radio in Dallas, and I earned an on-air shift at 103.7 KVIL within a couple of years. At the time, I thought I had landed my dream job… but I’m such a perfectionist that the frenetic, authentically messy world of live radio drove me nuts. Podcasts had all the same thrills of audio engineering with enough control and long-form creativity to really set me free, and I even pitched a podcast for 6 Stones back in the 2010s. That project fizzled out when we re-organized and I no longer had time for that level of production, but the idea stuck with me.

When I joined the Economic Development staff, the outgoing Director asked if I had any experience with podcasts. By that time, the medium had gone mainstream and he had a sense that we should strike while the iron was hot. So I mocked up a few trailers for him, ended up pitching them to his replacement a few months later, and the ‘Growing Grapevine’ podcast was approved in the Fall of 2021. 

…and what can you tell us about Season 3?

Steven Jones and Baylor Scott & White Community Outreach Manager Christina Cates prep for an interview on the ‘Growing Grapevine’ podcast.

‘Growing Grapevine’ is a celebration of everything that makes our City unique, with a narrative format befitting one of the most storied communities in North Texas. We spent Season 1 sketching out the big picture of the last half-century: major projects that shaped Grapevine during the boom kicked off by DFW International Airport in the 1970s. We skipped a few stories that I didn’t want to tell until we had time and access to tell them right, which meant circling back for an in-depth “tour” of Grapevine Mills in Season 2. That format was a blast because it let us explore a physical space and check into a variety of thematic projects that are fascinating on their own but also shed light on the bigger picture in Grapevine.

We’re about halfway done recording interviews for Season 3, with some production already in the works and a lot more on my possibly-over-ambitious outline. Ideally, you’ll be listening to the first episode later this Summer. For now, let’s just say we’re trying to keep the main thing the main thing.

Speaking of storytelling, what do you think the next chapter of Grapevine looks like?

In the next three to five years, we’ll finalize development on the last large parcels of green space in Grapevine. There’s a good chunk of untouched land shared between the City and DFW Airport, but those acres are so strategically important that it would take a once-in-a-generation user to get a deal across the finish line. With that in mind, I expect to make a few more awesome announcements about Gaylord/ Great Wolf Lodge/ Grapevine Mills-level game changers and then pivot to redevelopment efforts. We have incredible businesses on every block in Grapevine, but time and market forces can erode nearly anything after a few decades. We’re seeing a nationwide pivot in commercial inventory and city planning that will generate challenges and opportunities for all kinds of companies here in Grapevine.

The good news on that front is that our City has the most important resource of all: passionate people. Without residents and business owners who love this community and what they do, it would be easy to lose sight of what really matters. But our City Council and our citizens have years of practice when it comes to evolving with the market while maintaining Grapevine’s charm. I can’t wait to work with visionary developers and local stakeholders who share that vision! 

There’s one good example of modernization on Main Street that directly impacts you… fellow TEXRail commuter Cindy H. asks (via Facebook): “How do you decide when to walk or take the bike from Grapevine Station to City Hall?”

Steven doing “research” at Meow Wolf Santa Fe ahead of the announcement that Grapevine would host the company's fourth permanent installation.

Honestly? Time. If I can prep the bike and get it to the train station without missing my train, I prefer a quick ride down Main Street over walking. If I know I’ll be working on a tight schedule or hopping around the Historic District, it’s worth having a bike locked to the rack outside City Hall to cut down travel time. But it probably only saves me 5 minutes in and 5 minutes out each day, so I don’t mind taking a stroll when the weather is nice… or when I need to hold an umbrella instead of handlebars.

Finally, you’ve created a lot of Grapevine Economic Development content over the last five years. Which are you the proudest of… and can you tell us where all your puns come from?

Puns and pop culture references are a Jones Family tradition, forged in me by years of antagonism from my elder siblings. I had to learn to keep up with the Dad Jokes or get left behind at the dinner table, and that type of humor is now so instinctual that I can’t (read: won’t) stop myself from including wordplay in everything from the podcast to our monthly “New in Grapevine” features. If you’ve ever read an Economic Development post on social media and groaned then chuckled, please know that I did the same thing when I wrote it.

As for my favorite content, I’d like to think the best is yet to come. But I am particularly proud of our features on Oishii and BillyGO, as well as the podcast episodes explaining our Christmas Capital status and the awesome power of GCISD’s Career and Technology Education program. I’m a product of public schools, and getting to interview local students reminded me just how much I love and appreciate educators. Plus, getting roasted by 4th graders is even more fun than recording an April Fool’s Day episode about Bonnie and Clyde or Meow Wolf.

Want to celebrate more milestones with us? Reach out to our staff with your own questions and ideas! To stay on top of more news like this, subscribe to the ‘Growing Grapevine’ podcast and eNewsletter or follow us on Twitter Facebook, and LinkedIn.