Peggy Williams-Smith: Milwaukee Taking the National Stage

Peggy Williams-Smith, President and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee is a guest on the Skift Meetings Podcast

Skift Take

Peggy Williams-Smith is thrilled to host the Republican National Convention next year and showcase how Milwaukee can host large-scale events.

Not only is Peggy Williams-Smith, President and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee, the first native Milwaukeean to hold this position, but she is also the first woman. This is an exciting time to lead the city as all eyes will be on Milwaukee as it prepares to host the Republican National Convention next year. This is a national stage that will showcase the city’s ability to host large-scale events. It will also help attract millions in economic activity in the future. 

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Milwaukee Welcomes Democrats as well as Republicans

Williams-Lee took the helm of VISIT Milwaukee in November of 2019. Prospects were bright with the city scheduled to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention in its brand-new Fiserv Forum. The Covid pandemic changed that. “We had done a lot of planning in the city, the county, the region, to be able to host this once in a lifetime event. It first got delayed and then it was going to happen on a smaller scale, then that smaller scale shrunk,” she said. 

In 2024, the Republican National Convention comes to town. It is also hosting the Republican debate. “I think there’s a huge opportunity for us to showcase what many people don’t know about Milwaukee.”

Hospitality Has Been a Lifelong Passion

Williams’ first job was at Arby’s in 1986. She is proud to have been the 1987 Employee of the Year for all of Wisconsin. She has waitressed, bartended, and worked as a bar manager and banquet manager. Her start in the hotel industry was as a wedding planner. She worked her way up at Marcus Hotels and Resorts, where she worked for 22 years.

Blue City to Host Republican National Convention

There has been some pushback about the idea of hosting the Republican Convention. “Especially in a state where the city and the state are constantly at odds because the state legislature is run by Republicans and the city government is run by Democrats. This is how our country was founded, the Democratic process,” she said.

Communication Crucial 

During the pandemic, Williams-Smith focused on being a communicator. She was part of a group of nationwide destination organization leaders hosting weekly webinars focused on safety and reopening.

She also communicated at the start and end of each day via Zoom with her staff and shared weekly updates that featured best practices. 

Born and Bred

Williams-Smith revels in telling the story of Milwaukee. From new restaurants to new event venues, she highlights all their stories. “I grew up in this city. I’m part of the fabric of this community. I try to give back as often as I can. So, to be able to bring notoriety to the city and then to be recognized for that was completely overwhelming,” said Williams-Smith.