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Business: New Chamber of Commerce president first came as a vacationer
By Jason Lesley
When Jeff and Lisa Smith of Greenwood would leave Litchfield Beach after a week’s vacation, she would ask why they didn’t just move here.
The stars aligned for the Smiths, who have vacationed at Litchfield for the past 15 years. He took over as the new president and CEO of the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce last week. His wife is a public school teacher of drama, English and speech in Greenwood planning to retire in June.
“This is a beautiful area, and we are really excited to be down here,” Smith said. “The normal tenure for a chamber leader can be anywhere from five to 10 years. I knew if I didn’t pursue this now, the opportunity might not present itself again.”
Smith spent 16 years with the Park Seed Company in Greenwood doing direct marketing and sales before he took a job with the chamber of commerce there as director of communication, special events and marketing. “I took advantage of a great opportunity to get engaged in the community,” he said, “and developed a rapport with the president of that chamber.”
Angelle LaBorde came to the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce as president and CEO after leading the Jefferson Parish, La., Chamber to a growth spurt from 100 members to 900. “She knows the business inside and out,” Smith said, “so she was an excellent mentor for me coming in cold.”
Smith said he will bring her ideas for targeted programming for small business and large manufacturers.
“I will meet with the board in a couple of weeks and get some clear direction around three or four major areas,” he said. “There are always opportunities to engage the business community through targeted councils and different initiatives. We basically want to help facilitate events and programming that will help them do their business better. I see that as a role of the chamber, facilitator, especially down here where I’m discovering a lot of different groups because Georgetown is so diverse.”
Smith said he’s happy to have former chamber CEO Brian Tucker just down the street as the county’s new director of economic development.
“Having a former leader still in a county can sometimes be problematic,” he said. “I don’t see it as a problem. I think Brian is a great resource, and he and I have a good working relationship. We kind of knew each other in passing from different chamber functions. He jumped in here with both feet when he came. He’s going to be a tough act to follow, but it’s nice having him just a phone call away if I need him. And I have needed him, just trying to get the lay of the land.”
Smith said he wants the chamber to develop the next generation of leaders for the county. He met with the new young professionals group Wednesday and plans to meet members of this year’s Leadership Georgetown class next week.
“The goal of any young professionals group is to train future leaders and keep them here,” he said. “We don’t want them to come here and work for awhile and go to Charleston or Myrtle Beach. We want them in Georgetown County contributing. Once they start putting down roots you develop future leaders.”
Smith said the county’s tourism operation is in good hands with Lauren Joseph as director. “With Lauren, we’ve got everything in-house,” he said. “She speaks the language and can do the design work, the whole nine yards, and can work with agencies on an outsource basis when she needs to. She’s a one-woman show.”
Smith said the spring tourist activity on Front Street in Georgetown has been encouraging. “It’s the neatest little area,” he said. “I’m eager to get out there and nose around.”