Muskegon’s Leslie Knope: Allison Dile on empowering women in business, the adventures of being a new blogger, loving her hometown & more

Allison Dile. Photo by Sarah Carlson of Miss Camera Obscura

Allison Dile is a one-woman force of nature.

The business incubator manager at the Muskegon Innovation Hub by day and the creative whirlwind behind the Dile It Up blog by night (well, and weekends…and early mornings…and…you get the drift), Dile is a tornado in whose wake you want to be.

You’ve likely already found yourself in that wake, even if you don’t know it. In addition to her work at the Innovation Hub—a downtown Muskegon space that’s dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs throughout the region—and her blog posts that have covered everything from becoming debt free at 27 years old to traveling affordably, she works with the Muskegon Museum of Art and the Muskegon YMCA and is a chapter leader for the Lakeshore Boss Babesa group focused on empowering women business owners. Plus, Dile, a former business owner herself, is constantly advocating for entrepreneurs and change-makers in Muskegon, from regularly inviting them for radio interviews to helping them prepare for the 5×5 Nights, Start Garden’s business competition that the Innovation Hub sponsors twice a year in Muskegon.

We got the chance to sit down with Dile and learn more about the work she’s doing, what inspires her to write, her favorite under-the-radar spot in Muskegon (hint: it’s got some of the best Korean food around), her century-old home in the Nims neighborhood, barriers facing entrepreneurs, and a whole lot more.

Muskegon Times: Ok, so, you have a lot going on! You work full-time as the business incubator manager at the Muskegon Innovation Hub; we’re pretty sure you attend about a million events a week; you’re on the marketing committee for the Muskegon Museum of Art and the planning committee for the Black Tie for the Muskegon YMCA; you’re the chapter leader for the Lakeshore Boss Babes. Plus, you got married not long ago, and you always have these amazing projects happening at your home in the Nims neighborhood. When you started your newest venture, Dile It Up, were you thinking getting negative three hours of sleep a night is just way too much?

Allison Dile: I am Leslie Knope; I need a million things going on to feel fulfilled. It’s just part of who I am. I need to be busy and accomplishing things. It doesn’t make me feel that crazy because I prioritize. The art museum is important to me, the local Y is important to me, and empowering female entrepreneurs is important to me. So I make time for all of that, but my husband and I still have date night every week. I also schedule time to just veg. I need a night a week to just do nothing—be at home, watch TV—or I will burn out. I schedule that night for myself, so if I want to go to happy hour with a friend, I can, but if I want to sit at home and do a mask and wear my fuzzy slippers, right on.

Allison Dile. Photo by Sarah Carlson of Miss Camera Obscura

We want to hear about Dile It Up! What inspired you to start your blog and what have you learned since launching it in December?

I’ve been talking about starting Dile It Up for years. People would always ask me things like how I got out of debt or how I afford to travel, and I’d write it down as a possible topic for a blog. I have a notebook filled with these topics. In December, my husband was like, “Just do it already.” I wanted to get it going before the new year, so I kicked it off and it’s been so much fun. It’s been really great to have my creative energy out there and know that people are reading and connecting with it.

I grew up with the understanding that it is our responsibility to contribute to our household, neighborhood, and society. I have utilized the blogging community so much in the last few years, and I felt it was my responsibility to contribute to this community as well. My hope and intention is that my contribution through this blog can inspire or help someone else achieve their goals the way other blogs have helped me achieve mine.

You tackle a lot of different topics in Dile It Up, from your own engagement in Iceland and managing finances to home remodeling, recipes and travel advice. How do you decide what you want to write about, and what are you hoping your readers will take away from all of this?

I started writing about things people always asked me about: how we design space, how we afford to travel, how I got out of debt, or hacks and lessons I learned from some big adventure or undertaking. I wanted to provide a realistic and relatable guide to leveling up with the lessons I learned the hard way, or with research from other experts.

I feel people can be stuck in complacency because they don’t have people around them encouraging them; I want my blog to be that. I was raised by a single mom, and she believed in me and encouraged all of my interests, and my sister showed me the value of a higher education. Because people showed me how it could be done, I was able to figure these things out—and I wanted to show others this is doable, what you want is doable. And I want to show people you don’t have to come from means for these things to be doable.

I’ve been surprised by how many men are reading the blog, but I guess I shouldn’t be—the topics are for everyone. How to get out of debt? That applies to everyone. How to make jambalaya? That applies to everyone. It’s all of the things you need to understand that no one has presented to you in a digestible way before. 

We want to hear more about you! Did you grow up in Muskegon? 

I’m from Muskegon. The first house I lived in was by Muskegon High School, and then we moved to Fruitport and I went to grade school and high school there. I went to Mount Pleasant to go to college at Central Michigan University, where I got my degree in public relations, event management and public affairs.

Growing up, did you think you would build a life here after college ?

I could not get out of Muskegon faster; I felt like I was caged and stuck here. I thought everyone here would be miserable their whole lives. Then I moved to Mount Pleasant and did internships in Detroit, and I started missing home. Having to pay everywhere you park and having to google every time you need a gas station is garbage. And I don’t care how much you sell it; Kensington Metro is not a beach.

I missed my beach; I missed my home. I wanted to be there with my family to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments and birthdays and new jobs. So, I came back and got a job in Grand Rapids, and even that was too far away. I wanted to be back here, where you can go to the beach when you’re sad; you can go for a hike at Hoffmaster. I wanted the pace of West Michigan, where you know people are going to recognize you and care about you.

Allison Dile in her newly remodeled kitchen. Photo by Sarah Carlson of Miss Camera Obscura

You recently bought your first home in the Nims neighborhood! What’s the craziest thing that has happened to you as a homeowner so far? How about the best?

Oh my goodness. Where do I even begin? Last year, during the polar vortex, all the liquids on our kitchen counter froze solid. The house is about 100 years old, and all the insulation had deteriorated over the years. You could literally feel the wind if you put your hand up to the tile backsplash.

The best would be our kitchen remodel. It was so dysfunctional before; I honestly can’t believe we lived like that for so long. There was maybe four square feet of counter space; there was no dishwasher; there was nowhere to stand. We tore down the wall between the kitchen and the living room. We had to tear out the chimney by hand. After doing that for 10-hour days after 10-hour days, I will never remodel a kitchen again.

But, now it’s wonderful. We had a kitchen smaller than a walk-in closet, and now it’s great for events and hosting. And I saved ourselves $2,000 when we did the kitchen remodel. I went to Home Depot to figure out what we need to do our projects, and then I went to builders.com and bought things for half the price. 

As we mentioned before, you’re also the business incubator manager at the Muskegon Innovation Hub in downtown Muskegon. I feel like being an entrepreneur is simultaneously exciting and daunting, as you well know with all of your work. If there’s one thing you’d want someone considering launching their own business to know, what would that be? 

Take advantage of all the people and organizations that want to help you! The Innovation Hub, SCORE, SBDC, GROW, PTACI know it reads like alphabet soup, but they will connect you to everything you need.

The Muskegon Innovation Hub, where Allison Dile works. Photo courtesy of the Innovation Hub

What are you seeing as far as the entrepreneurs/business owners who are starting businesses in Muskegon? Are many of them from the area, do you see people from elsewhere moving here specifically to start a business, or is there a combination of the two?

I am seeing a lot of locals and people who have the ability to run their business remotely move to (or back to) Muskegon for the same reasons I did: a low cost of living, being near beaches and hiking, and to join an engaging community.

If you had unlimited time and resources, what kind of company would you want to start?

Holy cow, what a big question! I would open a bed and breakfast on a winery/farm that had event space to host workshops, special events and retreats.

What is one business that you’d like to see in Muskegon that’s not currently here?

Small scale, a ramen place. Large scale, a more diverse public transportation option, like the rail system in Europe.

What’s the biggest change currently happening when it comes to the business landscape in Muskegon?

It has gone from growing at a glacial pace to moving super rapidly. New businesses are popping up left and right, and, in order to survive in the same space, everyone is going to need to pivot and innovate to really find their niche and excel in that market.

I’m curious about what you think are the biggest barriers for entrepreneurs/business owners in Muskegon right now, and how we might be able to address those?

There’s a lack of funding opportunities. In Grand Rapids, there are all these venture capitalists and investment opportunities. Here, we have two 5×5 Nights a year and the Muskegon Angels, which are wonderful but, in comparison to other places, it’s limited. Having funding opportunities for new ventures and new ideas is the biggest downfall in entrepreneurial communities. You have to do loans, which a lot of people are hesitant to take out.

We also have a lot of employees who cannot afford to live in Muskegon. We’re building all these new awesome apartments, but who’s going to be able to afford to live there? Those new places are going to be filled with people from Chicago and Grand Rapids, and then it’s going to be people in industries where they can work remotely.

Allison Dile and her husband, Derek, while traveling in Italy. Photo courtesy of Allison Dile

Alright, getting back to your blog! Something we love reading about is your travels. What’s your favorite place you’ve gone to, and what place is next on your list? 

Paris will always have a special place in my heart because I dreamed of going there my entire life, and it was the first place I ever visited overseas. Scotland is probably next; the scenery and people completely won over my heart. Italy would be number three, and specifically the Cinque Terre region. Next up I think may be Switzerland, but Greece is also pretty high on my list. And I feel like my husband and I are both feeling pulled back to Scotland, so we will see.

For folks who might not have the time or resources to travel far, where would you recommend going to play tourist in our own city?

That is a tough one because in West Michigan it really depends on the season. Right now I would say the Winter Sports Complex.

OK, time for the Muskegon favorites game! Where’s your favorite place to write in Muskegon that’s not your home or work?

Lately, I have been really into the Muskegon Aldea. It gives off the right energy to brainstorm, but I also have to say the Muskegon Barnes & Noble. Weird choice, I know, but, ever since I was a teenager, that’s been one of my go-to spots when I need a change of scenery to create. There is just something so comfortable about it.

After you’ve worked up an appetite writing, what’s your favorite restaurant to go to here? 

I am a huge fan of Se4sons. They have the best sweet potato fries and have some really impressive weekly/seasonal specials.

Allison Dile’s favorite place to go hiking is P.J. Hoffmaster State Park. Photo by Anna Gustafson

You’re also a big hiker! What’s your favorite Muskegon park to go hiking in?

P.J. Hoffmaster, hands down. I joke I could rent out my dog to give tours there; he has all the best routes memorized and I don’t even need to direct him on where to go.

Obviously this is the most important question of our Q&A: as a red wine enthusiast, where have you found your favorite glass of red wine in Muskegon?

The Lake House has one of my favorites; it is from a winery called Caymus. It is a bit pricey, though, so it’s something I definitely reserve for special occasions.

What’s your favorite Muskegon business that not many people know about?

The Egg Roll House is amazing. I waitressed there all throughout high school—there’s even a wall with photos of me on it—and I love it so much. The owners are Korean, and they have a Korean menu with japchae, bulgogi, kimchi, all this amazing stuff. They have the best crab rangoons, best egg drop soup, best jasmine tea. It is the hidden gem of Muskegon.

When you think of life five years from now, where do you imagine the Muskegon business landscape will be?

I am so excited to see it evolve. With all the new development, the possibilities are endless. Moving forward, I think we will see a landscape that promotes the service industry and tourism industry with a group of entrepreneurs that do business nationally and globally.

Last question! What are some of the topics people can expect to see you tackle in upcoming Dile It Up posts?

My mission with this blog is to inspire others in a realistic and relatable way to level-up and shake the everyday complacency.  Personal finance is really a topic I hope to expand on; it is so important and I think it needs to be talked about more—and made digestible and actionable. There will definitely be some trip recaps, but not your typical ‘where to stay and eat’ posts—it will be more about the things we wish we knew before visiting. There will be a handful more posts about room remodels: the kitchen and master bedroom are probably next.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Interview by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with her by emailing muskegontimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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