Businesses depend on their communities and customers to thrive, just as customers rely on their businesses and communities for the goods and services they need to live their best lives. As Executive Director of Kilgore Economic Development Corporation, Lisa Denton works directly with established and new businesses to help them connect with customers, grow and grow. In turn, this makes the economic heart of our region beat faster.
“You never know what phone call you’re going to get. You never know who might come through the door, ”Denton said of KEDC’s day-to-day operations.
“Primarily, our objective is to identify the targets to be achieved. With our existing industries, we find out what their needs are and come back to do surveys and find out how we can help our local businesses.
Denton leads the KEDC team as they work with established local businesses to understand the distinct needs of each entity and make themselves available when business owners need help. They are also establishing links with new businesses looking to locate in the region.
Denton has a lot of experience to back up his skills. She spent 10 years with KEDC previously, becoming Deputy Director under former Executive Director Amanda Nobles. She left to gain the kind of experience she would one day need to take on a CEO role on her own.
“Honestly, my goal was to go out and get the experience as an executive director to hopefully have this opportunity. Fortunately, it worked! she said.
She spent nearly five years as head of the Athens Economic Development Corporation and also headed EDC in Palestine before returning to Kilgore.
“I got out and got into the consulting business with business development, and when COVID hit I realized how much I missed economic development and business retention. I had spoken with the city manager in Palestine and they needed help, so I ended up going as the manager and helping them get back on track. This opportunity opened up unexpectedly, but I’m very excited about it.
Amid the confusion and uncertainty of the pandemic, the KEDC team had their work cut out for them. Denton and his team had to think about and adapt to a new way of doing business.
“It made our retention efforts a bit more difficult, when everything was closed. Now we are evaluating how comfortable our businesses are to come back and meet someone face to face, ”she said. “It’s the best way to sit down and meet them, see their operations and learn more about them. It certainly affected our retention efforts.
“When it comes to new business awareness, things have gone virtual. People were doing virtual site visits and even if that still allowed us to continue down this path, at some point, they will have to come and put their boots on the ground. We’re just trying to get around the ins and outs and the comfort level of people coming from out of state. “
Having extensive experience at Kilgore and with KEDC was an advantage for Denton when she took on the management role.
“We just had our industry appreciation event and overall a lot of the same people were here when I left. It was helpful to have those relationships, to have their comfort level with me established a bit. Those who have changed, I started this relationship with them and I get to know them. It certainly helps to just pick up the phone and know who we are talking to.
The return to KEDC has given Denton a prominent place for the growth and development of the Kilgore business community. The organization exists to help businesses not only survive, but also thrive, and being directly involved in customer success is a rewarding experience. As KEDC succeeds, so does the local business environment.
“I entered economic development 17 years ago this month working under Amanda Nobles,” she said.
“Being able to help industries, whether it’s connecting them to the right part or something we can do here in this office, you find it especially rewarding, helping them grow and also knowing that you have an impact on the community you are in – creating jobs for the people who live here and creating opportunities for them, then seeing the ripple effect with retail and other quality of life elements that s ‘follow. This is the whole package.