Photography by Cindy Taylor
It’s difficult to measure the impact of a single man. But ask anyone who knows Dug Jones, and you’ll get the distinct impression his impact on this community has been significant – a good bit more than significant, really.
Jones is 54, married with two children and the associate vice president for economic development at Santa Fe College. At least, that is his title. In reality, it only brushes the surface.
Working through the Center for Innovation and Economic Development, or CIED, as well as other local bodies, Jones aims to “collaboratively foster economic development within the community.”
As a representative of Santa Fe College within such entities as the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, Council for Economic Outreach and FloridaWorks, he encourages a variety of groups to focus on similar goals for the greater good.
“We know that we’re doing well here when, glancing at our list of companies incubating at the CIED and the headshots of the people leading those companies, it’s reflective of the community at large,” Jones said. “And it always is. Our measures of success are them succeeding by their own definition of success and creating jobs and stimulating the economy in the community here.”
Beyond his involvement in “incubating” businesses for the CIED — and doing his part to see the economy of Gainesville grow — Jones reaches out to support others. He’s a natural leader with the drive to see graduation rates increase and college opportunities grow, and his reputation in the community paints him as a man with the will and experience to help.
“Dug is respected not only for who he is but also for what he does,” said David Whitney, Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Florida’s College of Engineering and a close friend. “He helps all people. And Dug helps all people the same way.”
Whitney — call him Whit — met Jones in 2009 when he went looking for people with a “real and sincere interest in entrepreneurial activity.” He connected with Jones because of his position at the CIED, and now he says he’s proud to call him one of his closest friends in Gainesville.
“Dug is an honest, fair, ethical and empathetic person,” Whit said. “And to work with him is to experience all of those characteristics and qualities simultaneously.”
People want to give Jones their best, Whit said. He leads by example and teaches others while simultaneously learning from the same experience. He then brings these experiences into other aspects of his life, including his role as a mentor to students such as Kyle Smith.
Smith, a 19-year-old sophomore at Santa Fe, has had Jones as his mentor since he was in the seventh grade. Thanks to a program called Take Stock in Children, which grants scholarships to students with college potential, but from backgrounds where attending college might not otherwise be available, the two came together.
Growing up, Smith said, he never had a father figure, but Jones was able to take on that role for him. He said his mentor has been someone he truly trusts, both with college concerns and personal issues.
With Jones’ guidance and encouragement, Smith has put his scholarship to good use. After Santa Fe, he plans on attending FSU to pursue a degree in criminology. Smith hopes to one day do for another student what Jones has done for him.
“It’s debilitating, I think, for some students to know in the back of their mind, ‘Whether I make an A or a C, I’m probably graduating high school and going straight to work,’” Jones said. “So we love the fact that they know now, ‘Somebody has already said I’m college material. Somebody has already invested in me.’”
With his dedication to this program and education in general, Jones does his part to give young people in Alachua County the push they might need to realize their potential. But he doesn’t stop there.
Because the CIED and Santa Fe offer chances to improve life through education for all ages, Jones also acts as a mentor for 54-year-old Johnny Days.
Days has come a long way since battling drugs, alcohol and a life that took him down a dark road. Through the Pathways to Persistence Scholars Program with Santa Fe College, Days found the “book of knowledge” that is Dug Jones. Jones has helped Days focus on earning his associate’s degree so he can one day work as a counselor for others in need.
“Dug is an encourager,” Days said.
Whether in a more personal setting such as his mentor relationships or a professional one like the CIED, Jones encourages those around him to express their ideas, try them out and learn from the mistakes.
Bill Dorman, the entrepreneur in residence who works with incubating companies at the CIED, said Jones always “backs up good intentions to do good actions.”
Dorman has been working with Jones on the incubator since 2008, when the program itself was an entrepreneurial endeavor. He said Jones gave him the freedom to fail and try again, learning along the way what worked and what needed to change without Jones micromanaging.
“Even though we help start-ups,” Dorman said, “we ourselves were a start-up and had no real idea what it was we were going to offer. But when we would find something that worked, he would encourage us to do more of it. And when we figured something out that didn’t work, he would suggest new ideas to avoid that in the future.”
He said Jones is consistent— the same guy no matter where he is or who he’s with — and he’s a successful leader because of his consistency. Even with his family, he takes the approach of letting his children make their own choices while understanding the concept of accountability.
He leads by example, Dorman said, and he lives with intention.
“Nothing falls through the cracks,” he said. “He’s big on making the decision about whether or not to take action but never letting it be by default or be unintentional — just letting something go because we didn’t have time for it. … Ignoring things is not something that he would let us do.”
His efforts have certainly made an impression on the people here: “Everybody loves Dug Jones,” Whit said.
Sitting down for a conversation with Jones is an education in itself.
He explains how he and his wife have very different personalities and how by being able to recognize specific characteristics in the people around him, he can determine which members of his team are best suited for certain tasks.
He uses anecdotes and metaphors catered to his audience to better explain an answer or make a point. He illustrates the difference in his children — Kendal, 17, and Landon, 14 — by recalling the time they went inside the supermarket alone as children: Kendal was measured and deliberate; Landon was ready to roll.
And even though he’s used a wheelchair since high school, Jones has continued to achieve in athletics, playing wheelchair basketball at the elite level from 1982 to 2002 and coaching from 2002 to 2008.
Dug Jones is a leader and a father and a man who is genuinely interested in his community.
His own extensive education — a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation, a master’s in education and a law degree from UF — has contributed significantly to his success with Santa Fe and elsewhere. But his extensive insight and ability to communicate with and understand people has contributed to the success of countless others.
Whether it’s on the basketball court or in the CIED, Jones said, it’s important for him to create an environment from which people can succeed and share in success as a team.
“I think when people are leading groups,” he said, “there’s a knack that some leaders will have.”
According to Whit, Jones has that knack. “When I grow up,” he said. “I want to be Dug Jones.”