Growing up on the family farm in Manning, South Carolina taught Kelli Brunson a lot about discipline and hard work.
“My dad is a third-generation farmer, so my sister and I worked on the farm driving tractors and herding cattle. It was a great way to grow up!” said Kelli. Since her parents come from large families, she also learned a lot about planning family gatherings and celebrations. “For Thanksgiving, we’d have about 75 people for lunch. I learned very quickly how to plan and organize in order to be the perfect host.”
This experience led her to major in Hospitality Management at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. Kelli originally hoped to be a wedding planner, but after working a few weddings, she realized that was not the path for her. “Wedding planning is a tough industry since you have a lot of emotions and different personalitites involved in the planning process,” she said.
During Kelli’s last semester at USCB, she interned at the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and landed a full time job before graduation. In May 2016, she began her career with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber as their research and digital marketing coordinator. The position involved a lot of work behind the computer, but she knew there would be other opportunities at the Chamber coming her way.
“Chamber President Bill Miles said to me that I would not be working in the same role that I was hired for. This gave me a lot of encouragement and made me feel that I had the ability to move up or change roles. The Chamber was very supportive of my interests, which meant the world to me.”
After three years working in research and digital marketing, Kelli changed roles and began a new path as their Events Manager.
Six months into her position as Events Manager, COVID hit. Everything she had planned for the latter half of the fiscal year was cancelled. She was then asked to lead the “Power Hours” via Zoom, a new initiative which provided the community with weekly updates related to COVID.
“Power Hour became the go-to information source for the community during COVID. We had a lot of fun adding music and a slide show to recognize our speakers before the virtual call. It was something simple, but one of the things I’m most proud of. Power Hour is still going strong today, on a monthly schedule and features updates on local community issues and celebrations.”
One of her favorite events to plan was the Annual Golf Tournament and to work with the Chamber’s Leadership Programs.
“Being in event planning, you have to be prepared for everything. I always think about the worst-case scenario and how I could mitigate everything that could happen so that we have a successful event.”
Kelli refers to herself as a “continuous lifelong learner”. During COVID, she was able to work on her Master’s degree online in Organization Development at the University of Georgia.
“I graduated in December 2022 with a Master’s degree in Education, specifically in Learning, Leadership and Organization Development. I was able to make connections with many other students from all over the Southeast, and that was really special. Being part of that program helped me identify the strengths I have as an individual and professional and how those factors play into facilitating change
management in organizations.”
When Kelli saw the job posting with the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation for a Marketing and Investor Relations Manager, she thought about it as her next natural step. However, she wasn’t quite ready to take the leap initially until she spoke with a mentor from a program she was involved in with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Henry Florsheim, also in economic development in Cedar Hill, Texas. Kelli shared,
“I immediately called him and I said, what do you think about me going into economic development? And he said, I think you would be perfect! Having that outside opinion and affirmation really boosted my confidence to make the move.”
Kelli is now officially in her position at the BCEDC and looking forward to working alongside John O’Toole and Charlie Stone. “I have many contacts and connections in the area and look forward to developing those relationships and many more in my role,” said Kelli. Right now, the BCEDC is gearing up for the 2024 Converge Economic Summit on January 19 with the theme “Pulling Together to Thrive.” After that, the threesome – John, Charlie and Kelli, will sit down and map out the year’s marketing and communications strategy moving forward. From a farm in rural South Carolina to one of the fastest growing counties in the state, Kelli Brunson is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to make the organization even more successful!