Wes Smithwick Resigns at B.A. Chamber
Editor’s Note: This article is compiled from writings of Bob Lewis and Emily Ramsey, Broken Arrow Express contributing editors.
The “help wanted” sign is out at the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation following the resignation of Wes Smithwick, who served as president and of both organizations.
While no reason for Smithwick’s decision was announced, several sources told News that he cited “personal reasons” in his letter of resignation.
Kinnee Tilly, senior vice president of economic development, has been named interim while the organizations begin the process of a formal search for a replacement. No timeline for this undertaking was announced.
A native of Alabama, Smithwick came to Broken Arrow with more than 17 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. Before taking the reigns at the Chamber and , he held an executive position with Broken Arrow Public Schools.
Smithwick was one of the community’s high-profile business leaders. Most recently, the Tulsa World Magazine recognized him as one of the key leaders making an impact on this region largely due to his vision and leadership in developing the Rose District. Once considered a “dead area” within the community, this section of Main Street is now thriving as an arts and entertainment center.
In February, Smithwick was named Citizen of the Year at the Broken Arrow Chamber’s Awards Banquet.
“Wes was chosen due to his tireless efforts in advocating for the city of Broken Arrow,” said Eric Kehmeier, Broken Arrow Chamber 2017 board chair. “He has also been a driving force in the partnership of the chamber, city and school district to make sure our city is moving forward.”
That mentality of working together for the good of the city and “leaving our egos at the door,” has allowed the city to continue its upward trajectory as it is now the fourth largest city in Oklahoma, “soon to be third,” said Smithwick.
Smithwick had been president of the chamber since 2010.
Among Smithwick’s many accolades is that he is credited for leading the charge in the revitalization of downtown Broken Arrow, which began nearly seven years ago.
In April 2011, Smithwick chartered a bus to take 30 B.A. leaders and stakeholders to visit Dallas, Plano, Texas, and other cities that have successfully created thriving main streets and downtown areas, said Smithwick.
On the ride home, Smithwick led a discussion on what the city’s vision should be for downtown.
“At the time, we had numerous disparate groups all wanting to help downtown move forward,” he recalled.
However, the only way that downtown could successfully do that would be through the creation of a shared vision.
That discussion allowed all groups involved to get on the same page, and “now, everything we saw on that trip is unfolding in the Rose District,” Smithwick said, such as mixed-use buildings, including the $18 million, 120,000-square-foot development that will be constructed along Main Street, widened sidewalks, outside dining, landscaping, and a water feature.
The water feature, a zero grade fountain, was unveiled in 2016 and sits in the renamed Rose District Plaza, which can also serve as an event venue, Smithwick noted. The plaza includes the pavilion, which is home to the spring and summer farmers market and ice skating rink during winter months.
“The Rose District has been the most fulfilling thing in my career,” he said.
“To be so intimately involved in a project from inception to reality and to continue to be involved in where it’s going has been a privilege.”
In order to learn from other cities’ successes, Smithwick led an annual Best Practices trip for community leaders and stakeholders. Last year, city members visited Carmel, Indiana, which was ranked the Most Livable City in the United States by Today. (Broken Arrow was No. 29.)
Recently, the city has experienced a series of job expansion announcements, particularly in the manufacturing sector, companies including Dover Artificial Lift Systems, Russelectric, Alfa Laval and CymSTAR.
These announcements, far from coming about by happenstance, are due to strategic efforts to keep job growth happening, said Smithwick.
Most of these strategic efforts are focused on business expansion and retention, continues Smithwick, which are largely centered on building relationships and connecting them with needed resources.
“What many people don’t realize is that Wes has been behind the scenes in many of our economic development projects,” said Kehmeier.
Most recently, that has included the downtown mixed-use project as well as the Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center, which will grow area tourism and sales tax revenue, he said.
After an unsuccessful attempt by city officials to develop a conference center in the early-2000s, Smithwick and chamber staff focused their attention in 2012 on reviving the project.
The hotel and conference center opened in November.
The chamber saw the conference center as something the city needed, Smithwick said.
As Smithwick reflects on the development explosion that has taken place in north Broken Arrow, his future plans included continuing to advocate for growth in south B.A.
While it will take time to increase traffic numbers and homes in the area, “The city has the infrastructure ready with water, sewer and widened streets to accommodate the future growth,” he said. And that growth will come.
Currently, 2,000 residential lots, mostly in south B.A., are under construction or are ready for construction; in addition, 45 percent of Broken Arrow is still undeveloped.
He said at the time, “My focus is to make sure that we continue our growth and build out the city.”
Only time will tell if Smithwick’s successor can prove to be as successful.