BY LOGAN MCCOURNTEY –
The ability to be able connect with people is a gift. To be able to walk into a room, make connections with people that leads to good conversation and then connect other people seems to be a gift that is all too lost in our world. More and more our ‘connecting’ is done through 140 characters on Twitter or through a picture on Instagram, but to really connect, this is special. In a world of seldom face to face connections, Ashley Smith loves to talk and connect with the people of Mena.
Ashley grew up in Mena after moving to the area when she was thirteen. She was actively involved in school in the school newspaper, The Bear Facts, and she was also the local and state president for the GCE program, now known as Jobs for America’s Graduates [JAG]. “I really enjoyed public speaking and it just fit my personality really well. I enjoy that type of environment, speaking in front of people and leading,” says Ashley smiling. Through the JAG program Ashley worked at Mena Insurance throughout high school and continued to grow and develop as a leader. “I took that experience and went to work at a very large general agency in Fayetteville and started working as an underwriting assistant. While I was there I earned my insurance license and this was during the time I was taking classes at Northwest Arkansas Community College,” explains Ashley. After starting a family, Ashley and her husband, Warren, moved back to Polk County.
When they returned to Mena, Ashley and Warren lived in Mena for a year before moving to Cove. After being back for a couple of years, Warren bought his dad’s business, Smith’s Grocery in Cove. “When we bought the store that occupied most of my time. I did a lot of the sales and advertising, PR, and HR work, along with the customer relations side of things,” explains Ashley. While running the business together, Warren took care a lot of the logistics such as ordering and day to day operations. During the time of working at Smith’s, Ashley continued to grow in her love for connecting with people and small businesses. “It was a great balance for us. Warren did a lot of the ordering and I tried to think about how to promote the business and spend time interacting with people. It was a great balance that really worked,” says Ashley with a smile.
Ashley is currently working to finish her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications online through the University of Arkansas, which is fitting for somebody that loves to connect and communicate with others. In addition to being a student, helping run the store, and being the mom of three children. Ashley didn’t shy away from an unexpected, but welcomed opportunity. Recently, Ashley was named the newest Executive Director of the Mena Chamber of Commerce, an opportunity that she wasn’t sure would even happen. “You know I wasn’t necessarily looking for a job seeing that we were so busy with the store, but I couldn’t get the position off my mind. My interest was peaked and so I applied. It ultimately worked out and I feel that it is a perfect fit for where I am gifted.” Ashley brings years of experience of small town business, leading people, and advertising and marketing to her new position, all strong assets to lead the Chamber. “I already love what I’m doing here. I am very goal oriented and love seeing completion, I feel that we can set long term goals that are achievable,” explains Ashley.
Mena and Polk County has a lot to offer, not only for those who call the area home, but for those who are passing through. “There is an energy here that I don’t feel has been here in a long time and there are tremendous possibilities for this area. I just hope that I can be a part of that in some way, even if it is just helping lay a foundation,” Ashley says proudly. One of the things that Ashley really has a passion for is keeping consumer dollars local and connecting people to the great opportunities here. Each year thousands of people visit the area for the beautiful scenery and trails. “We want people to see what Mena has to offer, I think that is a lot. My hope is that we would be a small town Chamber, doing big town Chamber things.”
One of the first projects as Executive Director that Ashley has is the Rod Run, an event that is a local and tourist favorite. “I think this is such a great event and year in and year out more and more people get to see through this event what Mena has to offer. We just want to help connect them to that,” smiles Ashley.
Along with her work at the Chamber and around the store, Ashley and Warren and their three kids, Eli, Cash, and Stella love being outside when possible. “We are a big fan of the rivers and trails right here in Polk County.”