By Randy Kirby
Sedalia Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Connie Smith announced to the News-Journal on May 17 that she was leaving her position after a little over two years and six weeks on the job.
In an interview conducted May 25, Smith explained her reasons for leaving.
“I made a personal decision to go back home, because my family asked me to, I have a new granddaughter,” Smith said. “But I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot and the Chamber accomplished a lot in the last two years I was down here. We had some goals and we had some plans, and I think we moved forward with those very nicely.”
Smith indicated she would be helping friends run their business as their daughter is excepting a baby this summer.
“I’ve got a good, diverse background,” Smith noted. “But I’m not going to volunteer as much as I did before. I know it’s important, especially being down here with the Chamber, that you can’t run a not-for-profit organization without volunteers. And we had some great volunteers, sponsors, supporters, and a good board of directors. Also the Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Military Affairs Committee, the Ambassadors and the Christmas Parade — I didn’t understand (at first) why we helped with the Missouri State Fair. Then after we had our Christmas Parade, I totally understood. We have the largest parade in the city,” Smith stated.
When asked if she felt like she had enough help to get everything done, Smith responded that “you never have enough help when you work for a not-for-profit, okay? You want people to have the passion that you have for the organization. And that doesn’t always happen, because everybody has their job first. But I think that the board did what they could do to continue to build those relationships.”
Smith mentioned the success of the Sedalia Leadership Class, which graduated 26 on April 11 as part of the Sedalia Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Business Connection Breakfast. Fifteen youth were paired with 11 adults for the most recent class of leaders, chaired by Bothwell Regional Health Center CEO John Dawes.
That was the third such leadership class for youth, but the adult class has been in operation since 1987.
“We got an ordinance changed with the signage for historical signs, we got a great experience with that. I brought the Piccadilly Gala, which is something everybody always wanted to do, and the Chamber did it. We brought a free women’s expo, and the new members’ showcase is something that’s very important — networking,” she said.
“My seasoned members need to go to the events that are created to introduce (themselves) and welcome the new members, because you never know, they might be sitting on a million-dollar order that they need that you have. So that’s my whole philosophy,” Smith said, adding that Deb Bierman has done a great job, as well as Carolyn Crooker. “Leaving the staff is probably my hardest (thing to do) because it’s a tight group.”
Smith admitted she always wanted to go too fast, but also acknowledged she thinks outside the box, referring the appropriately-named award given to her at the Chamber’s most recent awards banquet March 21.
Chamber President Doug Benitz presented the award to Smith for Thinking Outside the Box. “I think that you and the Chamber have found a new path, a new way to go. I think we have a lot of exciting things coming, and I think you’re a driving force behind that,” Benitz said of the outgoing Smith.
“Sedalia’s a great town, you have so much going on and there’s a lot of little secrets that nobody knows about that makes this town happen,” said Smith, who began her job as executive director March 28. On May 25, a devastating tornado struck Sedalia.
“FEMA hit my desk and said ‘Hi we’re with the government and we’re here to help you,'” she laughed. “But they really were and we worked well with them and also economic development. What the Chamber does, is brings together government, businesses and your community, and they are the only organization in town that does that — that’s what Chambers are for.”
Smith was the volunteer of the year twice in Lee’s Summit and served as the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce chairperson in 2004.
Prior to coming to Sedalia, Smith worked for Ultreya Solutions Group, which is a technology consultant company, based out of Lee’s Summit.
Smith has a combined 24 years of experience in commercial insurance, banking and technology. Photo by Randy Kirby, Sedalia News Journal.