St. James welcomes Andrea Gehrke as new EDA Director

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer
Andrea Gehrke is the new St. James EDA Director.

At the last St. James City Council meeting, the council passed a motion to hire Andrea Gehrke as the new St. James EDA Director.

Gehrke, a native of Bloomington, started growing her business acumen with smaller businesses in Cambridge, before getting started with Anytime Fitness in 2002.

Gehrke worked with business owners developing their brand in countries ranging from Dubai, Qatar, Japan, and the Netherlands.

When she started at Anytime, Gehrke says the gym did not even have a logo or website after its start in 2001.

"My job at that point was to go out and really pioneer for the brand and learn what the best practices were for building a profitable health club within that model."

Now, Anytime is one of the largest franchise groups in the world, as was named the #1 Global Franchise by Entrepreneur Magazine in 2015. 

After about 15 years of working at Anytime on a larger scale, Gehrke decided it was time to return to small towns, and took over five clubs in central Minnesota who were struggling, and was able to turn them into profitable clubs in 18 months.

Gehrke then became the marketing director for the clubs in that specific ownership group, approximately 30 clubs. 

In October of last year, Gehrke started her own business, working with other companies to develop business strategies, leadership development, brand strategy, and marketing with a small group of clients.

"I've never done anything that I haven't liked."

Gehrke says he main reason for looking for the opportunity in St. James is that she missed working as a team.

"I loved collaborative workplaces. I loved creating ideas with people and using a team. I loved the idea of creating a collaboration between people."

The further she talked with City Manager Amanda Glass, Gerhke said the decision was a "no-brainer."

Gehrke noted that St. James' attractions include its lake, diversity, history, and infrastructure that has been built up in recent years.

"My goal is to take all of those aspects and really use them to the advantage to create a regrowth of all the economic development of St. James and really create opportunity not only for business owners but for St. James citizens to have great opportunities for shopping and all sorts of different kinds of experience within the five-mile radius of their town." 

In her limited time in St. James, Gehrke has noticed that, despite COVID-19, there seems to be a sense of optimism, and that there seem to be people who would be willing to start businesses if they knew where to start.

Creating a pipeline of younger, exciting entrepreneurs is also a goal of Gehrke's.

"Small towns have really struggled, especially in retail. We all know how big of a beast Amazon is and how much that's really carved into the retail storefront. Every small town has taken a step back in their storefront presence." 

"I know I'm only going to learn by embracing the people, the culture, and the beauty that's already there and making more of that."

In her free time, she has a hobby farm and she hopes to add chickens to next year. She also is a musician and plays guitar and piano. Gehrke has three kids, aged three, six, and 11.