New chamber director: ‘This place sells itself’

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

PICKENS — Her new role as the executive director of the Greater Pickens Chamber of Commerce allows Kim Smagala to draw on her background and skills set.

Smagala was serving on the chamber board when former director Mike Parrott announced his plans to retire.

Board members asked Smagala if she’d be interested in serving as chamber director in a part-time capacity. After speaking with her family, she decided to accept.

“Only in a part-time capacity — I could never handle full-time with everything else I have on my plate,” Smagala said. “If it gets to the point where they need a full-time person, I’ll help with the transition.”

Smagala was previously the director of marketing and communications for the Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I planned all their special events and managed all their programs,” she said.

That chamber had a staff of around a dozen.

“It was pretty active,” Smagala said. “It was pretty busy. Things move at a slower pace here. It’ll be easier to maintain and not get burned out.”

She says one advantage Pickens has over other areas is the existence of a seperate entity — the Pickens Revitalization Association — “fully focused on downtown.”

She said that allows the chamber to be fully focus on “attracting new businesses, advocating for current businesses, bringing value to the current membership.”

“It’s nice, instead of the chamber having to do all of it,” Smagala said. “The PRA is pretty active. They really will go hand-in-hand.”

Smagala attended Winthrop University and went on to graduate school at American University, studying marketing and management.

She ran pro bono campaigns for the Humane Society.

After that, she ran a shared-office center called Office Start.

She’s glad to be back in the Upstate, where she grew up.

“That’s when I started working with the chamber of commerce,” Smagala said. “It was fun to be able to use all of my background — special events and marketing — there.”

“It’s fun to be back in an area that I couldn’t wait to leave — the small town — after living so many different places, then realizing we had everything you ever needed right here,” she said. “You’ve got the small town feel, the mountains and the lakes and rivers. I think I took it for granted growing up. Now, this place sells itself. It’s so gorgeous. The cost of living’s so low. It’s a great area to start a business in.”

She said the city “really is business friendly.”

“I love the leadership here,” Smagala said. “You can sit down with the mayor and talk to him. You don’t get that in a lot of places.”

“There’s only room to grow,” Smagala said. “We might not have all the right answers on how to grow the city, but we’ve got the right people to sit down and collaborate together.”

She said the chamber’s board of directors is “phenomenal.”

“We’ve got really a good group of visionaries, and they all bring really good skills and backgrounds to the table,” Smagala said.

She said officials have worked really hard to maintain Pickens’ essence.

“We’re not trying to be a highbrow area,” Smagala said.

Parrott would often walk the streets, stopping into businesses.

“Everyone knew him,” Smagala said. “I think that’s a plus. In a lot of cities, you lose that connectivity. You get so big, you don’t have that interface with all your businesses. I think it’s something we never want to lose. I think they’ve done that really well.”

One of the challenges ahead is getting face-to-face time with all the businesses and “meeting everyone’s needs in a part-time capacity,” Smagala said.

She said she’s enjoying getting her feet wet.

“I think I can embrace it, no problem,” she said. “Everyone’s been super supportive. I think it’s going to work out really well.”

She’d like to do surveys of chamber membership, to find out the types of services they would like to see the chamber provide.

“I’m excited,” Smagala said. “It’s going to be fun.”