Jim Rawlinson is the Regulatory and Permitting Ombudsman for the Indy Chamber. A member of the Develop Indy (Marion County economic development) team, he helps businesses and government interact more effectively. Helping businesses navigate the processes required to operate in the City and helping the City manage its processes to be as responsive and efficient as possible. As a part of the Develop Indy team he also interacts regularly with a number of community development corporations and is involved in a number of brownfield redevelopment projects throughout the city.
Jim is a near-lifetime Eastsider. He was born in Irvington and served on the Little Flower Neighborhood Association board for a decade as President for two years. As part of his professional duties, he serves on a number of local boards and councils including Film Indy; The Mayor's Cultural Investment Advisory Council; and Thrive Indianapolis. Jim also works closely with groups like NEAR, Englewood CDC, Midtown Indy, the IndyEast Promise Zone, LISC Indianapolis, Mapleton Fall Creek CDC, Twin Aire, River West and many others.
Jim graduated from Bishop Chatard High School. He received his undergraduate degree in history from the Marian University and later his Masters of Public Administration from Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He lives in a big spooky house by the park in Irvington with his wife Emily and two sons, James and Nathan. The Rawlinsons are parishioners of Little Flower Catholic Church. When he isn’t working, playing music, fixing up the house, corralling his kids or hosting pool parties at his parents’ house, you can probably find him at Black Acre in Irvington or generally failing at his latest running training program.
How long have you lived in Indy?
I’m pretty much a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, had a few dalliances with Southern Indiana during undergrad, but I’ve been here the rest of my life. I was born in Community Hospital East and spent my childhood in Irvington, moved to the Northeastside and attended Eastwood and Bishop Chatard. Came right back to the Eastside as an adult, buying our first home in Little Flower and then when our family grew we moved a few blocks over back to Irvington. My mom’s family is a stereotypical Eastside Irish Catholic family, so I’ve got a few generations worth of roots over there. Lots of aunts, uncles, cousins … it helps you feel like you are a part of something bigger.
The coolest thing about being a lifelong resident of Indianapolis has been watching our growth in the last three decades. It’s hard to believe now, but as a kid in the 1980’s there literally was no reason to ever go Downtown, outside of maybe a Pacers game or for a parade. Watching the turnaround of the late ‘90s, and the growth of the ‘00s was fun. Getting to be a small part of the cultural and economic boom that is occurring here right now is more than I could have ever imagined.
Why have you focused on using your skills in the nonprofit sector?
My parents were both teacher - my dad taught Social Studies and my mom was a special education teacher. Having been raised going to Catholic schools, service was always a big part of our lives. I think another influence was Boy Scouts. People have different experiences with Scouting, and it depends on what kind of leadership you were provided, but I had a fantastic experience. I had a close group of friends and we pretty much all went on to be Eagle Scouts. Between Scouting and Catholic school education, I was always needing to pick up service hours for something. I was even a page at the State House … it’s always been something I wanted to be a part of.
After undergrad I spent some time in the private sector and it wasn’t at all fulfilling or satisfying for me. I knew I wanted to be involved with nonprofit work. I talked to some attorneys I worked with (as well as a couple family members) and ended up pursuing a Masters of Public Administration from SPEA. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Some people feel the need to go somewhere else to prove themselves or find bigger challenges, and that’s fine. I won’t pretend like I didn’t feel the allure of Chicago or Boston when I was younger. But I really just want to make my community the best that it can be. Growing up here and seeing things bottom out in the ‘80s … the potential to work in the community to put it back together is something I’m very passionate about.
How did you find your current position?
I was finishing grad school and had an internship requirement looming over me. I was worried because I already had started a family and while I really wanted to move on professionally, I made a comfortable salary, so there was some stress to step off the ledge and quit for an internship with no real parachute. I saw a position that seemed interesting at Downtown Indy and the person it reported to was Catherine Esselman. Catherine and I were classmates in high school and hadn’t really stayed in contact since then, but she gave me a shot.
The whole Downtown Indy team was super awesome to work with and it was a rewarding experience. At the time Downtown Indy and the Chamber shared the 19th floor in Salesforce Tower. Having been involved with the City a little through neighborhood stuff and as an economic development enthusiast, I’d become a bit of a Michael Huber fan. So once I realized there was that connection, I was looking for opportunities to move over to the east side of the floor.
I had a few months off in between and interviewed for a few positions but none of them seemed like the right fit. This job opened up at the Chamber and I know my work at Downtown Indy and familiarity with some of the people on the floor helped me get the spot. It ended up being the perfect place for me. I get to work with the City, be a part of economic and community development on a high level, be a part of the groundbreaking work that the Chamber is leading in the region and meet a lot of insanely talented, driven people.
So, moral of the story: take a chance, believe in yourself, always do good work and don’t burn any bridges. You never know when and how people will come back in to your life.
What would you say to another young professional considering a nonprofit job?
If your goal is to make a lot of money and have a ton of free time or not be challenged much, absolutely do not get involved in the nonprofit sector.
But, it is worth pointing out that Indianapolis is one of the BEST places to get involved in nonprofit work. Of course we have a very vibrant, connected city with a low cost of living that allows you to take a lower salary and still more than provide for yourself and your family. But, on top of that, we have so much opportunity in the nonprofits! Whether it is government service (state, city or federal), the arts, community development, social services … whatever you want to do in the nonprofit sector, I think Indianapolis is one of the best places to be in the country right now. So many opportunities.
If you could learn a brand new skill, what would it be?
I’ve always wanted to play drums, because it’s an instrument that is so crucial for every genre of music and one that I have absolutely no ability to play in any way.
If you were an inanimate object, what would you be and why?
Man. I dunno. I guess I’ll go cosmic and say the Moon. It would be pretty cool to be the Moon, right?
What do you hope to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
Personally? I’d like to travel a lot more. Japan, the Balkans, Italy … I’ve got a list that seems to grow all the time.
Professionally? I never thought I would say this but I sort of want to teach. Civics? History? Something like that. I also have always wanted to get my JD but (*checks student loan bill*) ... nevermind.
I also want to be Twitter verified. For reasons that I can’t explain. @jim_fix!
Share a little-known treasure of Indianapolis with us.
A few weeks ago I would have easily said Bookmama’s/Irvington Vinyl but alas … The Garfield Park Conservatory is amazing. I love to take the boys there and let them run around, look at the rainforest, waterfalls, coi ponds… Also the White River trail that goes around the Zoo. With all the limestone? I don’t know if it’s really little-known anymore but especially in the spring and the fall it’s my favorite place to run and I hardly ever seen anyone over there.
Oh, also State Street Pub. They always have super interesting music lineups and way better food than probably anyone expects. All in a cozy little spot on the Near Eastside most people don’t even notice.
Most important question: You get to curate a brand-new music event here in Indy. What bands would you book – still active or long since disbanded – to create the best lineup of all time?
So, I spent way too much time on this. I have weird musical tastes and I understand that my favorite music lineup would definitely not be the “best lineup of all time”. So, I had to break it down into a few stages:
Superstar (everybody is happy) Stage: James Brown, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Michael Jackson (BAD era), Van Halen (Roth era, duh), Biggie and Tupac (performing TOGETHER), Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen.
Tastemakers stage (for people who know what’s up): Chuck Berry, Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis, Willie Nelson, Muddy Waters (Mike Bloomfied era), Jeff Buckley, Saint Vincent and Prince.
Jim’s personal stage: Nirvana, Fugazi, Sunny Day Real Estate, AC/DC (Scott era) and RUSH.
Want to support Jim's work?
Music is another of Jim’s passions. He has been in a number of local bands and currently performs as part of Maravich (whose full length album “When Am I Now” is slated to be released in June).
He is a board member for Musical Family Tree, a local 501c3 committed to spreading Indiana music! He is working as both an MFT board member and in his professional role at the Chamber to help organize the first ever Music Cities Forum in Indianapolis. This event, managed by international music policy group Sound Diplomacy, will bring together artists, policy drivers and members of the music industry to Fountain Square on May 9 to discuss how Indianapolis can craft the growth of a burgeoning music scene in a thoughtful, inclusive way.