As the South Huntsville Business Association interviewed candidates for its new executive director role this summer, President Jerry Cargile said one thing was clear.
Bekah Schmidt, then marketing and Connect Program director for Leadership Huntsville/Madison County, had all the qualities and more they wanted in a new leader.
“We had the candidates come in and we got to the end of the day,” Cargile said. “It was clear to all of us that Bekah had the best skillset and was by far the best person for this position.”
A South Huntsville resident, Schmidt was a gifts officer for Huntsville Hospital and resource development director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Alabama before joining Leadership in late 2016. She came to the Rocket City five years ago from Alaska with her husband, Stephen, a U.S. Army veteran with whom she shares two small children.
There is so much community interest in South Huntsville now. The timing is just perfect…people are starting to ask the question, what’s next?”
Working to identify potential leaders and empower them to serve in the local community through Leadership was valuable experience Schmidt needed to take the helm at SHBA, a nonprofit advocacy organization formed in 2015.
“When this opportunity came up, in a lot of ways, it felt like it was something I had been training for without realizing it,” she said. “I got to work with so many wonderful people through Leadership all throughout the community.”
Meet Bekah Schmidt, SHBA’s new executive director
In her new role, Schmidt will report to the SHBA Board of Directors and have overall strategic and operational responsibility for administration, staffing, programs, marketing, and fundraising. She will also be responsible for executing the SHBA mission, which is to support, promote, and advocate for member businesses and the district.
As Schmidt settles into her new full-time role, SHBA is working with the City of Huntsville and Main Street Alabama to develop a Main Street district that begins just north of Martin Road and includes the commercial corridor along Memorial Parkway all the way to Ditto Landing and the Tennessee River.
Announced in early June, the Main Street designation supports SHBA and the city’s efforts to continue the transformation and revitalization of South Parkway.
“It will really help us create South Huntsville as a place and create a brand for the district,” said Cargile, who is also president and principal civil engineer at 4Site in Huntsville. “There will be events and festivals ultimately planned for that brand that will drive traffic here.”
The Main Street Alabama Resource Team is in South Huntsville this week conducting tours and meetings, hosting interviews and engaging with the public to launch the strategic planning effort for the South Huntsville UrbanMain District.
SHBA hosted a community vision session with Main Street Alabama on Aug. 7 at Grissom High School along with two other related events on Aug. 8 – 9 for the public to attend. Topics included On the Street Community Engagement and The Future of South Huntsville.
To reach the next level, District 3 Council Member Jennie Robinson said SHBA needs someone who thinks 24/7 about the South Huntsville business community and the city’s opportunities to revitalize South Parkway.
“Bekah Schmidt is the ideal person for the job and brings a unique combination of experience and skills,” she said. “Her marketing and nonprofit background will help SHBA work with Main Street to execute on the vision for our UrbanMain project.”
Robinson said SHBA was created to help the South Parkway business community deal with the overpass construction taking place at their front door. Now that construction is over, she said SHBA will become a “vehicle” for leveraging new opportunities to redevelop the area.
Schmidt said her first priorities include working with Main Street Alabama to create and implement a strategic plan for the district; updating the SHBA website and social media; and increasing membership. There are currently about 80 SHBA members, but Schmidt believes that number will grow substantially.
“There is so much community interest in South Huntsville now,” she said. “The timing is just perfect. With the Parkway being open, people are starting to ask the question, ‘What’s next?’ As we grow through this process, we want to engage the community.”
Rosie’s Mexican Cantina owner David Martin said the new Benaroya Lane extension and Main Street Alabama designation have helped Rosie’s and other tenants “develop a sense of place and connect residents with recreational opportunities and businesses in South Huntsville.”
Martin said working with the SHBA has also been a positive experience as he strengthens and develops relationships with city leaders and other South Huntsville businesses.
“Getting to know other business owners in South Huntsville has been great,” he said. “I would not have met many of these business owners if it were not for the SHBA.”