Story by Kellie Ann Benz
Photos by Gabe Green
Edited since print
For all of those who believe you can’t go home again, here’s two to prove you wrong: Britta Folden, 30, and Eric Jackson, 29. The duo are the brains behind Alder Creative, a thriving marketing start-up that has set up shop in downtown Aberdeen, their hometown.
Folden and Jackson are Aberdeen High School grads who followed their friends out of town as soon as they graduated but quickly realized that following their hearts was a better plan.
Yes, Folden and Jackson are a couple, and as this magazine goes to press, they’ll be days away from their wedding. The marriage only solidifies a long-term partnership that developed as soon as the two began working together.
Jackson always had an eye for design, leaving his hometown immediately after graduation in pursuit of a degree in Digital Technology and Culture from Washington State University in Vancouver, Wash. Folden, with her sights set on a business degree, headed off to Bellingham’s Western Washington University.
While Jackson found himself drawn to Vancouver’s neighboring city of Portland, where he dabbled in rock with an indie band, Folden also looked to the Oregon city as a creative center. After university, she left her Seattle-based marketing job and became a design assistant at Fix Studio in Portland.
But the Harbor kept calling their names.
Returning to visit often, Folden freelanced as a writer for the Grays Harbor Community Hospital newsletter and The Daily World.
While both kept one foot sort of still at home, their new city lives were in full swing.
Though the two wove in and out of each other’s social circles, it wasn’t until separate lunch meet-ups in their shared hometown that the former classmates noticed each other.
“It was just supposed to be a lunch with a friend for each of us,” Folden explained while Jackson listened in, nodding. “We ran into each other, our friends knew each other.”
While they both separately tried to carve out lives of their own, trying to make their adopted cities a new home, both finally worked up the courage to admit something to themselves.
Each of them wanted to go home.
“It was more like, I wanted the room to be original and to work on meaningful projects,” Jackson said. “And I wanted to help my hometown thrive.”
Folden felt the same. Folden said that once both were back on the Harbor, around 2012, they we re-introduced.
The idea to work together came along with the romantic interest.
“It didn’t take long to imagine our future,” Folden said. “It felt kind of natural, all of it.”
They knew that with a little effort, the two skilled professionals could combine their strengths and together they could bring to their hometown a modern design and branding expertise.
Immediately, their business took root.
Jackson handled all of the design, Folden managed the business and the word-smithing.
The new business team initially worked out of their home offices without a formal location. They relied on the contacts they both had and found local projects easily. When it was time to formalize their company, they knew they wanted to make their business home in downtown Aberdeen. They wanted a location that would signal their modern approach while still hearkening back to Aberdeen’s colorful past.
They found their ideal office in a modernized business space inside one of Aberdeen’s oldest downtown buildings, the kind of building that has likely seen every incarnation of the port city’s businesses over the decades. Today, the space is clean, modern and just the right size for a small staffed office.
In 2014, Folden and Jackson made their new company official. They named it Alder Creative, offering brand strategy, advertising design and copywriting at their new offices at 305 S. F St. in Aberdeen.
Creatively, the office gives the two hometown kids everything they need to remind themselves that they are one of many new companies redefining a new economy for the area. Their door is across the street from the Wishkah River, where river otters can be seen frolicking unbeknownst to the bridge traffic above. The space suggests a Portland before Portland became what it is today.
They named their company after the alder trees in the area. With the lumber industry providing the foundation for Aberdeen’s original growth, it seemed fitting to the modern duo to incorporate some type of forest theme into their company’s name. Upon finally unpacking, the creative partners found an unlikely being sharing their space; a colorful bug had made its way on to their wall.
“We looked closer at this weird little thing, and we were sort of mesmerized,” Jackson explained. “It had defined black and white stripes and these long antennas. It was so cool.”
Naturally, the designer snapped a picture of the little guest and googled it.
The bug was an Alder Boring Beetle, and while boring beetles have been devastating elsewhere in the world, this insect actually helps the environment by aiding in the renewal of old forests.
“It felt like a symbolic welcome,” Folden said. “We knew then that we had made the right decision to come home.”
The office of Alder Creative has all of the markings of a contemporary marketing company; calm, creative and coffee-scented. The dry erase boards list the many projects on deck, some long term, some immediate, and the brainstorming of other projects and pitches in the works.
Jackson and Folden work in tandem with each other, with Jackson hunkering down to his computer to tinker on a design, and Folden managing the project details, relationships and deadlines.
Busy since they opened, Alder Creative is currently spearheading the re-branding of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Society, marketing for Aberdeen’s newest mayor Erik Larson and leading the website development for this magazine’s online presence.
“It feels amazing to do the work we love right here at home,” Folden said.
“And to give the people and businesses who have committed to the area the kind of marketing support they deserve,” adds Jackson.
From their office, the Wishkah River is in view and the trains can be felt rolling through town, two reminders of the industrial side of Aberdeen that has been the city’s economic foundation. Alder Creative, in a very real way, could signal the next wave of prosperity, delivered by the next generation of loyal Aberdonians. With the ease of access to workspaces, the eagerness of the business community to welcome new business and new entrepreneurs making the Harbor their home base, Alder Creative is one of many clever, new companies giving local companies that competitive edge.
“We’re working on developing some unique products to help small businesses and non-profits stay on top of their web presence,” Folden said by email when Washington Coast Magazine followed up on the company a few weeks after an initial interview. “We‘re giving our clients what feels like a full-fledged marketing team, without the big price tag of hiring one.”
Since opening the office, they have now been able to hire another nearby staffer. Chelsea Royer joined the team as a part-time communications assistant earlier this year.
Proving the old adage wrong, these two have gone home again and from the looks of it, they plan to stay.