New KDP chief: She’s all business

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After more than seven years working for the tourism board in Grays Harbor County

After more than seven years working for the tourism board in Grays Harbor County

After more than seven years working for the tourism board in Grays Harbor County, Barbara Smith is now the new director of the Kent Downtown Partnership and the city’s charm is already working its magic on her.

“I’m already in love with Kent,” she said last week.

And it’s not just that her last office was a windowless room while her new one looks out on the city’s downtown: Smith also is impressed with supportive nature of the people she is working with and their passion for downtown Kent.

“I don’t feel like people are so caught up in individual lives they won’t offer you an ear,” she said.

In her first month as the new executive director of the KDP, Smith is meeting a lot of people, talking to all of the members of the KDP board and also meeting with as many members as possible and is relishing her role as “the new cheerleader” for downtown.

“My plan is to continue to listen,” she said.

Smith took over for retired executive director Jacquie Alexander on June 29, after training with Alexander since June 11, and said she realizes that she’ll never quite fill the shoes of Alexander, a longtime friend who encouraged her to apply for the job. Smith is looking to make her own mark in the position.

“I can’t fill her shoes, but I can wear my own,” she said with a smile.

Smith, 59, was born in Grays Harbor County and was working in Olympia when a headhunter found her for a job with the Ocean Shores Chamber of Commerce, her first in the tourism industry.

“I had so much fun,” she said.

In 2000, Smith began working for Grays Harbor as the deputy director for tourism. Smith said much of her time in Grays Harbor was spent building partnerships among the many businesses to get them all on the same page to save money and make a bigger impact.

“By the time I left we were all working together,” she said. “That really taught me a lot about branding.”

And when Alexander announced her plans to leave, she contacted her friend to toss her name into the running.

“She kept bugging me,” Smith said with a laugh. “I said, ‘Fine, I’ll apply!’”

Smith said she used to visit Alexander often and she loved coming to Kent to do some shopping, but it was the dedication of KDP Board members and their obvious passion for Kent that made her want the job even more.

Smith said she believes her role at the KDP is to learn what the businesses need to help them succeed and then work with the city to try and “recruit and sustain” businesses for the downtown core. She also believes that Kent needs to maintain its focus on the “historical downtown.”

“Otherwise we’re no different from any other downtown,” she said, adding the city still needs to find a way to draw shoppers from Kent Station, though she admits it is probably a different demographic.

She added that the KDP needs to be the “voice for our downtown businesses” to put up a “united front” when dealing with the city or other organizations.

Smith, who has a business-management certificate and several night-school classes under her belt, said she has learned most of her skills by simply getting involved and she doesn’t expect that to change in her new role at the KDP.

“I’ve always known I don’t know it all, nor will I ever know it all,” she said. “Most of my learning comes from rolling my sleeves up and doing.”

ON THE WEB

For more information on the Kent Downtown Partnership, visit www.kentdowntown.org


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