NEDC hires new CEO: Jason Smith returns to hometown

September 27th, 2015

Sarah Kirby

The Norman Transcript

The office where Jason Smith works is immaculate; his work space is clear of clutter.

The newly hired Norman Economic Development Coalition president and CEO has been on the job for about one month and has not sat at his desk long enough to accumulate piles of paperwork to review.

Smith has instead spent most of his time visiting with business community leaders one on one, sometimes scheduling up to four meetings a day. He still has yet to meet everyone on his list, but he expects to make all his appointments by the end of his first 90 days.

“It’s just going to take a while,” Smith said. “You want to make sure you get around and meet people one on one because people tend to be more open, and that takes a while.”

On Tuesday, the Norman Chamber of Commerce welcomed Smith with a reception.

The come-and-go event was well attended, enabling Smith to chat up those he had already met at various Chamber events and others who had not made his acquaintance.

Norman Chamber of Commerce President and CEO John Woods said he was immediately impressed with Smith.

“He obviously has a great background and experience in growing local economies; he’s shown that very quickly. He’s familiar with Norman already, and that’s a great advantage combined with his skills sets and personality. I anticipate great things from him and NEDC as an organization. We’re really excited to work with him in the years ahead.”

  • Job responsibilities: Smith was hired to replace Don Wood, the first-ever NEDC president and CEO, after Wood announced his retirement early this year.

Smith resigned from his position as president and CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce after two years to take the position in Norman.

Smith went to Abilene in June 2013 after serving for nine years as head of the community economic development organization in Lincoln, Nebraska, and seven years as the director of the McAlester economic development program.

“This is the third new job I’ve started in this business,” Smith said. “It’s always like drinking from a fire hose — you gather as much information as you can so that you can develop strategies moving forward.”

Smith has led several initiates at his post in Abilene, including the creation of a successful young professionals program, the expansion of the organization’s military affairs program, a complete redesign of the organization’s marketing and communications program and the overall growth of its government affairs program.

He also has worked with local legislators to defeat a bill in Austin that would have created a closure commission for state-supported living centers. He took an active role supporting the Joint Land Use Study, the school bond issue in 2013, as well as a recent city bond issue in the spring.

With years of experience working in college towns, Smith said he expects to find the challenges and opportunities that await him to be one in the same.

One advantage that has proven already useful is his familiarity with the area, Smith said.

“I know my way around, so I know where most things are and I know to avoid Lindsey (Street),” Smith said. “I’ve been in places where it’s taken me a while to learn how to get around, so that’s been easy.”

Smith cited his predecessor for initiating the work that will allow the advancements that will now come into fruition under his watch.

“We’re fortunate that Don has laid the groundwork for a lot of things so we can take the baton and move forward, instead of go backward, which is something I’ve had to do in previous jobs,” Smith said.

Going forward entails a three-fold strategy: bringing more jobs to Norman, retaining young people and encouraging entrepreneurship in Norman, he said.

“It’s kind of an all-inclusive process and we want to be strong in all those endeavors,” Smith said. “Hopefully, it will lead to new opportunities to attract new companies here.”

  • It’s who you know: Smith spent many childhood years in the community, attending elementary and middle school years in Cleveland County in Norman, Moore and Noble. His family has lived in Oklahoma for more than 100 years, Smith said.

“This is a homecoming for me,” Smith said. “I feel very strongly that Norman is my hometown. I grew up here; I spent the first 15 years of my life here. Forty years ago this fall, I was a first-grader at Kennedy Elementary, and now I’m here.”

His father was a school principal at Norman Public Schools for nearly two decades. His parents also owned The Pedler Shop, an antique store in the historic downtown district, where Elusive, 209 W. Main St., currently stands.

“I haven’t had a chance to go in yet,” Smith said.

Smith said he returned to Norman with new eyes. While the climate and culture has remained the same, much has changed — especially his new role.

“Coming back as an adult is a bit different,” Smith said. “I’ve never worked or lived here as an adult. It’s different when you see all these things as a child.”

Sarah Kirby


[email protected]

Follow me @skirbyreports