After serving the city as the director of economic development for more than three years, Heather Smith completes her final days in Fort Scott this week as she prepares to move on to another job in Wisconsin.
“It’ll be really difficult to leave here, but I’m excited for the next step in my career,” Smith said during the most recent Chamber Coffee held Thursday, saying the collaboration among the city, chamber of commerce and the local businesses made her job and the recent accomplishments in Fort Scott possible.
Smith first worked at Peerless for six years and then at UMB Bank as a manager for two years before the position with the city opened in 2013. Believing her background in both manufacturing and finances would assist her, Smith said she jumped right in.
“It was a little bit overwhelming at first, but a big part of being able to make progress is just jumping in and talking to people and doing research,” Smith said, saying she was comfortable in her position within the first year.
Smith said the revitalization of downtown Fort Scott has especially been an enjoyment for her on the job, seeing investments made in that area that she said she believes will be transformational, bringing energy back into the area.
“One of the top priorities is business retention and expansion,” Smith said, adding she and the city focused on working with local employers and assisting them in their projects and meeting their needs can be met so they can continue to grow. “We try to be very business friendly.”
In her more than three years at her position, Smith has taken a part in projects such as the Lowell Milken Center, the Western Building project, the LaRoche Baseball Complex, Country Place Living, Sleep Inn, Casey’s General Store and a variety of other additions, expansions and improvements made around the city, adding up to millions of dollars in investments.
“That’s pretty impressive for a community our size,” Smith said, pointing out the top ten employers have also seen a net job growth of 18 percent while the county minimum wage has increased by 20 percent. “All of these are signs that Fort Scott is on a really good trajectory and recovering quite well from the 2012 recession. It’s a good place to be.”
Smith said she is sure that momentum will continue with the continued work of the city leaders, saying she has seen them make many wise and forward-thinking decisions such as by hiring an IT director and working closely with other entities such as the school district.
“Thank you so much for being such a progressive and visionary commission to work with,” Smith said to the Fort Scott City Commission during her last meeting with them Tuesday. “It’s not an easy thing to leave. I love this community. It’s been a very difficult decision.”
The commission said Smith will be missed and even stated she is welcome back if she should decide to return.
“We want to thank you for everything that you have done for Fort Scott,” Mayor JoLynne Mitchell said.
City Manager Dave Martin pointed out Smith is not just appreciated among the city staff, but is also liked and respected in the community.
Smith will move to Wisconsin, where she will work at the Chippewa Valley Technical College, managing a $5 million grant from the department of labor for workforce development in a consortium of technical colleges.
“I love Fort Scott,” Smith said, saying she had not necessarily been looking for another job when this one became available. “Fort Scott is home. I love this community. It’s like a family.”
Rachel Pruitt, who is from Fort Scott, will begin working as the new director of economic development on October 10, and said she is looking forward to filling a position that has such worthwhile results for the city, after working in corporate marketing and commuting away from her home for her previous job.
“[They’re] big shoes to fill,” Pruitt said, but added she is hoping to get up to speed quickly without losing any of the forward momentum Smith initiated.
Smith said she believes Pruitt has the capacity to continue the collaboration between the city and businesses in order to continue the progress already made in Fort Scott.