Peggy White – Pulaski County Enthusiast

7 28 Peggy WhiteWilliam Paine/The Patriot

Peggy White stands in front of a mountain setting at the newly christened Experiential Center. White has served as the Executive Director of the Pulaski County Tourism Department since its creation but will retire at the end of July.



The Patriot

Her enthusiasm is contagious.

Talk to Peggy White for five minutes and you will come to understand just how enthusiastic she is about Pulaski County. This is most appropriate, as Peggy White serves as the Executive Director for the Pulaski County Tourism Department and holds an unapologetically sunny view of the future of Tourism in Pulaski County.

“It can only go up,” Peggy White said with a grin. “I think we’ve laid a really good foundation. We’ve got the branding and our social media is top notch. We have an award-winning website and we have an Instagram account. Today’s travelers are all going to the Instagram to look and see what’s there. So, we have laid the groundwork. I mean, it can only go up from here!”

Peggy White has worked as the Executive Director for Pulaski County Tourism since this new department was created in 2021 and it’s been a busy couple of years. Since taking charge of tourism, Peggy has helped conceive and implement numerous projects to promote Pulaski County as a choice destination for tourists.

One of the most prominent aspects of White’s efforts are the colorful “Welcome to Pulaski County” road signs stationed at every entry point into the county.

“The first thing we needed was a brand identity and the signs made a difference,” White explained. “We have gotten more positive feedback from that signage than anything else. We’ve put our branding in magazines. We’ve wrapped a bus and we have billboards! I think it created an internal pride with people. In the past, Pulaski has had a negative image, but I’ve seen that change in the past five years.”

Peggy White has seen many changes in Pulaski County since she moved here in the 1980`s.

Before that …

“I’m from a little place called Phoenixville, Pennsylvania … right outside of Philadelphia,” said Peggy. “My father was with the railroad and he went from the Penn Central to the Norfolk & Western. I moved to Roanoke for high school.”

Peggy then attended Virginia Western Community College to study Commercial Art before heading to the mountains of North Carolina to work at Sugar Mountain Ski Resort.

“That was fun for a little while, but then I ended up working in art galleries in Houston and I got a really intense interest in fine art,” Peggy recounted.

To further her knowledge, Peggy began taking Art Conservation and Museum Studies classes at Virginia Commonwealth University. Eventually, she decided to attend Mary Baldwin University so she could take business classes.

In the meantime, Peggy met Locke White, who was intent on giving Peggy real life business experience as a part of Collegiate Designs, a company that he and a partner formed in 1982. Peggy joined the business, which was located in Dublin’s Industrial Park, in 1987. That same year, Peggy married Locke White.

“We made ready to assemble furniture for college students,” said Peggy. “We made rack beds, futons, computer desks and love seats and all of that. I came up with the designs for the sewing and how to do the assembly of that. I did a lot of marketing and promotion, too. We were a real factory.”

While working at Collegiate Designs, Peggy attended Hollins College and acquired her degree in Economics with a Business Concentration in 1993.

“Collegiate Designs was very successful, except for the fact that it was seasonal,” said Peggy. “So, we would transact a year’s worth of business in about eight weeks’ time. We ran three shifts all through the summer and delivered to 16 schools. The final year that we were in the business, (1996) Locke’s partner bought him out.”

Peggy White’s next employer was the YMCA, where she worked under Director Jack Leahy as Membership Director.

“I’m a big fan of the YMCA and the family feel it had at that time,” said Peggy. “Believe it or not I set up a bench press contest there and it drew people from all over … it was kind of a big deal. A local guy named ‘Michael J’ won one year after benching 600 pounds. I just ran into a man who had fond memories of attending the event when he was a boy and that made me feel really good. So, I stayed there until I was kind of recruited by Nancy Bowman to work at the Chamber as their Membership and Communications person in 2001.”

The next year the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce moved its headquarters to the Visitor’s Center in Dublin, now known as the Experiential Center.

“I wasn’t aware of the importance of the Chamber until I was involved in it,” said Peggy. “It’s an integral and important part of a community. It’s a place where businesses can network and get resources where they can have a place to go to discuss ideas and trends with their peers.

“The other thing I’ve noticed with all the different presidents is how political the chamber is,” Peggy continued. “It’s really a cushion between government and business. So, you can imagine how political it gets. Before we had liquor by the drink, we had to get signatures from people so that we could get it into different districts in the county. Before that, we were dry. You couldn’t get a beer with your meal until 2003 or 2004 and you couldn’t get a restaurant in here because we were a dry county. The chamber was instrumental in making that happen.”

White became Executive Director of the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce (PCCC) in 2008. As such, Peggy has wielded the oversized scissors used for the Chamber of Commerce’s famous Ribbon Cuttings on many occasions.

“I can’t count how many ribbon cuttings or our Business After Hours events I’ve attended,” Peggy confessed. “Phoenix Packaging was a really huge ribbon cutting and a really great little thing for the county to get them in here. So, I do remember that one.”

While in charge of the PCCC, White was involved in numerous business-related projects, including the establishment of the Marketplace at the Pulaski Train Depot.

“We figured nothing is going on Tuesday, so we made it on a Tuesday,” said Peggy. “We also knew we had to provide food, entertainment, beverages and shopping. So, we tried to make it an experience. We put plants in and put white lights out. We put events going on in there. So, it would provide not only a place where people could get together, but it also became a place where they could buy healthy food options. “

During her tenure, the PCCC was also involved in numerous programs geared toward the youth of Pulaski County. White championed such programs as 8th Grade Reality Day, 5th Grade Reality Day, Manufacturing Day, a Youth Excel Program for 11th Graders and the Young Entrepreneurs Academy.

“With the kids, it’s a two-fold story,” said Peggy. “One, you need to let the kids see what’s happening, as part of a community. And two, you’re training the next workforce. The next workforce is seeing what they have here. They don’t have to go anywhere else.”

As Director of the Chamber, Peggy White was also familiar with the Tourism industry.

“Tourism had always been handled by the Chamber and you could see that tourism was becoming a big industry,” said Peggy. “But at the time we were going from textile and furniture manufacturing to higher manufacturing, but when these plants were closing down, nothing was happening. So, our focus was on workforce development. Tourism wasn’t really being accepted, but we still kept it up. We used a lot of the Chamber’s resources to promote tourism.”

According to Peggy, Pulaski County Administrator Jonathan Sweet put a new emphasis on tourism and, along with Peggy, initiated the “Pulaski County is …” campaign.

“We asked the public, ‘What does Pulaski County mean to you?’” Peggy recounted.
“Someone sent us a picture of their daughter at a ballet recital. Others sent us pictures of biking and boating and so we made posters and we really started trying to promote it at that point.”

As mentioned, the Pulaski County Tourism Office opened for business in 2021 and Peggy White was chosen to be its first Executive Director. A few months later, COVID restrictions were firmly in place and this ultimately resulted in the closure of the Tourism Center.

“When COVID hit, that changed everything,” said Peggy. “We were shut down. Reservations all went online, but there were no reservations to take anyway. Ticket sales went online. So, the need for the Visitor Center kind of went away. We went from 10,000 visitors a year in 2019 to the last year that we had it open where we were lucky if we hit 500 people and most of those people came to use the restroom. So, this became a fairly expensive restroom stop.”

This Spring, the Visitor’s Center was rechristened as the Experiential Center, which is now used to promote the best Pulaski has to offer by hosting businesses and recruiters interested in coming into the county.

With the closure of the Visitors Center, Peggy was tasked with producing some type of self-serve information station, that could be accessed in multiple areas of the county. The end result of this effort was the Guidery.

“We needed a self-sustained place where visitors could get information that wasn’t manned and I thought what can we do?” Peggy opined. “Then I remembered the phone booths made by Pulaski Furniture Company back in 1977 and thought that would be perfect! So, we wrapped the back of the booth with a scene you might find anywhere in the county and we made a book full of QR codes and we called it a Yellow Book. The QR codes don’t change. They take you right to a website, so it’s constantly up to date.”

There are several of these bright red Guideries posted at various locations around the county and they can be accessed by anyone using a smart phone.

Under Peggy’s direction, Tourism in Pulaski County has also taken a more regional approach. In addition to the Pulaski County Tourism website, which has won an award for Best New Website Design, Pulaski County Tourism is also being promoted on the new Visit the NRV website.

“We’ve got partnerships in the New River Valley and we’re forming a partnership with Galax and Wytheville for the first time ever,” Peggy explained.

Peggy White will officially leave her post as Tourism Director by the end of this month.

“Retiring feels really weird,” Peggy confessed. “I can’t tell you how wild this is.”

Any plans?

“I’ve talked to so many of my friends that have retired and they said don’t do anything, make no decisions for the first few months,” said Peggy. “But I am going to go hiking and I want to do a lot of travelling. The woman that got me into hiking actually got me started on Draper Mountain. That’s her favorite place … and I love to kayak. I’ve got my favorite run on the New going from Foster Falls down.”

Peggy still seems to have the energy and enthusiasm to perform the job, so why retire now?

“My father just turned 91 years old and he lives in South Carolina and I had to go on down for his knee surgery,” Peggy explained. “My mother had Alzheimer’s at that time and it was very difficult to be up here and not to be able to help them out down there. It really hit me when I first realized my mother had Alzheimer’s. I was working when the phone rang. I answered it and she said she was so glad it was me. I said ‘Mom, what’s wrong?’ She didn’t know where she was. She didn’t even know she was calling me. It was the worst feeling in the world to know I couldn’t get to her to help her. That experience really triggered me. I don’t … I don’t want that again. If pops is declining, I want to be there for him. So that’s why and that’s the truth.”

In the more immediate future, Peggy’s daughter, Jordan White, who recently attained her Masters Degree, will be moving back to this area from Richmond. Her eldest daughter, Hope White, is Director of Photography for a marketing group in New York.

Both Jordan and Peggy are planning to visit Hope, and catch a Broadway show, this fall.