Growing up in Magoffin County, Grayson Smith always knew he wanted to come home to the mountains he loved. “I didn’t buy into that whole ‘life-is-better-somewhere-else’ mindset,” he says. Not that he wouldn’t have opportunities to live elsewhere. In high school Grayson was a star football player, a running back and linebacker at Magoffin County High. When he graduated from high school, he headed to the Big Blue Nation, the University of Kentucky in Lexington. His high school play hadn’t landed him a football scholarship but Grayson was determined to play for the Big Blue. His freshman year he “walked on.” For the next four years he played Defensive End. Grayson proudly recalls “I walked on, but I won my scholarship. I played four years under athletic scholarship at UK.”
Being a Wildcat in Kentucky- even at football in this basketball crazy state- is a big deal. Grayson had completed his degree and come out of college with a strong network of friends and acquaintances who could have opened doors in any corner of the state. He certainly didn’t have to return to Magoffin County, a county the Times would have you believe is one of the worst to live in America, but return he did.
Initially, Grayson had plans to be a teacher. He received a Master’s Degree in Education from Union College. But politics were calling, and he soon found himself working for then-Governor Ernie Fletcher as a Field Representative. Grayson crisscrossed Appalachia, learning about constituent problems and trying to bring the powers of the Office of the Governor to bear in solving them.
Later, he worked for the U.S. Congressman who represents most of eastern Kentucky, Rep. Hal Rogers of the 5th Congressional District. At various points, Grayson also served as a political consultant in legislative and state races.
His experience and impressive resume, combined with his growing network, could have taken him any number of places, but rather than make the move to somewhere like Lexington or Frankfort, Grayson chose to keep his home in the community he loves.
Following his stint in politics, he began an entrepreneurial path. When you meet Grayson, the first thing you notice is his size. He looks like he could run through a brick wall. When you speak to him, the first things you notice are his friendly demeanor and his intellect. Grayson has managed to combine each of these traits (brawn, brains and bonhomie) in his entrepreneurial career.
Grayson owns two companies: WYN Enterprise, a right-of-way clearance business that does contract work for the local utility companies. WYN does the hard work of clearing mountain trees and shrubs from the hillside paths of power and telephone lines. Grayson spends a fair amount of his time in that business manning dangerous wood-chipping equipment and wielding chainsaws. When he’s not doing the heavy work, he’s bidding contracts and managing the four tough-as-nails men who work for him.
Grayson’s other business is as co-owner of the local Magoffin County newspaper: the Salyersville Independent, circulation 4,500. There, he’s done it all: he’s written articles, sold ads, investigated stories and helped circulate the papers every week. The newspaper employs seven.
Grayson knows entrepreneurship isn’t easy, but he feels it’s worth it. He recently completed an MBA from the University of Pikeville and is constantly looking to learn new things. Whether he’s wielding a chainsaw or writing copy, he enjoys the freedom that owning his own business gives him and likes being his own boss. He’s also making headway growing his right-of-way business. He very nearly has the loans paid off that he used to buy the heavy equipment. And he’s developed a comfortable niche for his newspaper; Grayson assures anyone who will listen, “weekly newspapers are not going be obsolete anytime soon.”
To help make ends meet, he works a day job doing management work for a local construction company. He’s also active in his local community.
When an EF2 tornado devastated his county in 2012, Grayson was active in the relief and in helping coordinate the recovery. He’s raising two daughters in Magoffin County and his wife has a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit of her own as she helps him with the family businesses and organizes and leads local Zumba classes.
Grayson recognizes Magoffin County has its challenges, but, in contrast to places like New York City, he points out the relative comfort the poor in this region face. “You come through Magoffin County anytime, and you show me someone who’s homeless. It just doesn’t exist. Show me someone that goes hungry. That doesn’t happen here.”
What brought Grayson home? He doesn’t hesitate “family”… then he pauses, and he adds “and for the genuine care people have for one another.”