By   – Senior Reporter, Nashville Business Journal

As Elizabeth McCreary sees it, “If I do my job really well, someone gets a job or is better-employed because of it.” There’s been a ton of that job-generating activity in Williamson County, and McCreary has been at the center of the action, at Williamson Inc., the county’s combined chamber of commerce and economic development agency. She also has figured prominently in recruitments that didn’t wind up in the county, such as Wall Street asset manager AllianceBernstein’s decision to move a 1,050-job headquarters to downtown Nashville (a move that will surely impact Williamson County in its own way). She has ambitions for far-flung world travel.

What was life like growing up? I didn’t have the best childhood. I think it’s better to judge people by the distance they’ve come, rather than by the environment they started in.

How would you describe that distance you’ve traveled? I grew up incredibly poor. Food stamps. Government housing. I don’t actually remember my first job, because I’ve always been working. The first job I paid taxes on, I was 13 or so.

What job was that? I was bussing tables, because I wasn’t old enough to wait tables. I loved working in restaurants. … I figured out early on that I could make money and then I didn’t have to ask anyone else for anything. I bought my first car when I was 15-and-a-half. I got my learner’s permit and my grandmother took me to the bank and co-signed for a loan for $3,000. I had it paid off in no time.

What kind of car? It was a Geo Metro stick-shift. … I drove it like it was a BMW. I have to thank God every single day I am still alive. There was a back road going from Lebanon to Carthage, and there was this massive dip where you could leave the ground. And I did, all the time, because I would forget it was there.

What else did you learn with that first “real” job? At our core, we’re all the same. It didn’t matter if I was waiting on the poorest person in town … or serving the richest guy. … I learned very early on how to treat people and talk to people. I feel like everyone should have to wait tables.

What is the oddest job you’ve had? I was a telemarketer for a funeral home. I was 17. There is a funeral home in Nashville that sells pre-packages. They try to get you to set things up early, so your family doesn’t have to. I would make calls to try to schedule meetings for the salespeople. I just remember thinking, “Somebody really does this?” Honestly, being poor, that’s like the last thing you think about: how you buy a fancy coffin and flowers and everything. You’re not thinking about the end; you’re thinking about the next day.

You went fairly far away for college. As far as I could get: Colorado State University. That was intentional. This is the way I look at it: My name is Mary Elizabeth. Growing up, everyone called me Mary. I wanted to be called Elizabeth: “No, my grandmother is Mary.” No one cared. When I went off to college, I started introducing myself as Elizabeth. My spouse will laugh if we’re in public and someone calls me Mary, which indicates it’s someone from the first 17 years of my life.

You mentioned that you recently took your family to Ireland. What’s next on the agenda? There are very few places where we say, “We’re definitely going back there.” … If you have a choice to make a trip, why not make it somewhere new? We have a huge list. Chile and New Zealand, those are my two top-line places.

Are you a morning person or a night owl? Mornings are OK. I really hit my stride around noon. From there until 3 or 4, I’m set.

Have you had any celebrity encounters? Not really. I’ve always said unless it’s Barbara Streisand, I’m not going to be fazed. If she comes around, I probably would pass out.

What’s a common misconception about Williamson County? A huge misconception is that millennials either have to drive downtown for fun or they have to live downtown. Millennials are getting older, and they are following the same trends as every other generation before them. They’re having babies and moving to the suburbs.

Give us a good Franklin restaurant recommendation. Cork & Cow and Red Pony are both fantastic. Cork & Cow is one of the best steaks in the Nashville region. I have taken site consultants there who have requested to come back and eat there again. Red Pony is a great date night, a really fun environment.

Age: 39

Title: Chief economic development officer

Company: Williamson Inc.

Address: 5005 Meridian Blvd., Ste. 150; Franklin 37067


Employees: 17

Hometown: Carthage, Tennessee

Education: Middle Tennessee State University, bachelor’s in organizational communication