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Local, state leaders honor Peggy Smith

Peggy Smith surrounded by members of the Cullman City Council, Cullman Economic Development Agency and the Industrial Development Board / W.C. Mann

You outworked every colleague in your field, never intimidated, never boastful, and never satisfied with the most recent win.  To achieve that level of success for anyone would be impressive; to do so as a woman in a male-dominated field, my friend, is nothing short of extraordinary. My friend, you did not simply excel as an economic developer.  You did not merely create jobs.  You transformed a community, and you offered opportunities and jobs that made a true difference.”
Former Gov. Bob Riley

CULLMAN - A generation of movers and shakers in Cullman County business and industry got together at Terri Pines Country Club on Thursday to honor former Cullman Area Economic Development Agency (CEDA) Director Peggy Smith: to celebrate her career, to commemorate her retirement, and (for someone as driven as Smith, wasn’t it obvious?) to hear what’s next.  Hint: it’s not really retirement.  More on that later.

Leaders came out of the woodwork to honor Smith.  Past and present executives of local industries, state and federal legislators, Cullman’s mayor and council, CEDA, the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Cullman Industrial Development Board were all present.  Former Governor Jim Folsom, Jr. came, and Gov. Kay Ivey sent a letter of congratulations, as did former Gov. Bob Riley.  Numerous local officials, along with Smith’s family and friends, all celebrated her achievements.

Smith spoke at the dinner, but, as some of her remarks were personal, she requested that her speech not be published.  The Tribune honored her request, and chose instead to share a few examples of what others said about her during the evening.

Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield:

“When you hear the name Peggy Smith, you think automatically the first lady of economic development in the state of Alabama, because she has established herself early in her career, and planted a very strong flag for the Cullman area, for not only the city, but also the county.  She sort of set the standard which other women in economic development across the state have aspired to.

“In that regard, she’s been very good at setting and establishing herself as someone who mentored, but also led the way, led the charge to make Cullman and plant it firmly on the map for economic development, with repeated success.  It’s easy to say that repeatedly, year after year, Cullman and Cullman County have fared very well relative to the other 66 counties across the state.  It’s always been a leading county.  It’s a great testament to her success.”

CEDA Project Coordinator Susan Eller:

“I’ve worked with Peggy for several years.  She’d kick my butt if I told you how long!  But I’ve worked with her for several years, and over the years I’ve traveled some, doing our jobs, and it doesn’t matter where I went in Cullman County, in the state of Alabama, or outside the state of Alabama, people knew who Peggy Smith was, because she was so well respected by all of her peers.  They knew when she said something that she was going to do it, and that she would be successful at what she did.

“Personally, to me, she’s been a great friend.  She’s been a mentor, and I tell her all the time-which she blushes-I tell her that I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for her, and her leadership and guidance.”

Industrial Development Board Executive Committee Chairman Mark Bussman:

“You could almost say, very easily, that all of the industrial development in Cullman subsequent to the Flying 50s, King Edward, and that timeframe (King Edward Cigar Company located in Cullman in 1955), Peggy Smith’s had her hand in all of it, somehow.  And not only industrial development, but long-range planning for the community, long-range planning for the county, and the list of accomplishments, you wouldn’t even want to start. 

“It’s been a great run; we’ve located some wonderful industry here that are all good corporate citizens, and that is very important.  So I think the legacy is economic development in today’s time, and the quality of the industry we’ve located; it all goes back to Peggy identifying what we wanted to go after, then selling the community to the industrial prospect.”

New CEDA Director Dale Greer:

“It has been my great personal honor to work beside and learn from a true economic development professional: Peggy Smith.  She’s widely recognized as one of the best in America; not just in Alabama, not just in the Southeast, but in the country.  Her success on recruiting industries has been pretty remarkable.  What the community’s done with retention and growth of the companies, it’s legendary. 

“People come from throughout the Southeast to talk to her about what is the magic of Cullman, how we’ve been successful in what we’ve done.  She’s always shared our best practices, even when a bunch of us told her not to, with people we were competing against.  She was always willing to share her knowledge, her expertise, and it’s been pretty special.

“The economic development professionals call her the queen, and it is a real genuine title.  They mean no disrespect.  They’ll tell you; many of them are here in the room, that all say that.  She set a standard for professionalism with ethics and dedication that few developers ever matched, and she did it at a time and in a profession that was dominated by men.  Ellen McNair’s here with her.  The two of them from Montgomery set a standard for all of those, the first two women in history of the state to lead the Industrial Development Organization.”

Former Gov. Bob Riley (by letter):

“To say Peggy Smith is the director of the Cullman Economic Development Agency is an accurate statement, and yet also wholly inaccurate, for you have been so much more.  You have been the driving force behind an economic development powerhouse: one that transformed a city, a county and a region.  You have set the standard for which all other economic developers are judged, and likely always will be: bringing companies from all over the world to your home county, convincing them to take a chance on a small rural town in Alabama, whose name most of them, likely had never heard of.  Yet they came, not because they believed in Cullman or her people, or her promise, but that they believed in Peggy Smith’s commitment to the companies.

“You outworked every colleague in your field, never intimidated, never boastful, and never satisfied with the most recent win.  To achieve that level of success for anyone would be impressive; to do so as a woman in a male-dominated field, my friend, is nothing short of extraordinary.

“My friend, you did not simply excel as an economic developer.  You did not merely create jobs.  You transformed a community, and you offered opportunities and jobs that made a true difference.”

Albert Von Pelser, on behalf of Rehau, and Brad Pepper, on behalf of Topre America, both presented plaques to Smith, and announced that conference rooms in each of their facilities had been named in her honor.  The Cullman City Council and Industrial Development Board presented her gifts of earrings and a necklace, which she modeled for guests before leaving the dinner.

Cullman City Council President Garlan Gudger led the crowd in a toast to Smith.  Among his words, he said:

“There’s a couple of age-old questions, such as ‘What is the purpose of life?  Why are we here?’  I believe one of those reasons is to leave this world and your community a little better place than when you found it.  Peggy has achieved this purpose 10 times over.  She strengthens us all, and makes us dig deeper to find the best of ourselves.”

Retirement...not quite

The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce announced on Mar. 13, and Smith confirmed, that she will come on board as the official campaign consultant for the chamber’s five-year strategic plan “Converging for Success.”

According to the chamber’s website, Converging for Success is a five-year plan developed to focus on four key initiatives:

    Community Development

    Existing Business Growth & Professional Business Sector Recruitment

    Entrepreneurship & Innovation

    Business & Community Advocacy

In the chamber’s news release, President/CEO Leah Bolin stated, “In an ever-changing global economy, we feel very fortunate to have someone with Peggy’s experience and knowledge leading the charge.”

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