Although a total of 14 industries were recognized for their longevity at Thursday night's Manufacturing Milestone Anniversary Recognition Banquet held at the Sedalia Country Club, it was former EDSPC Executive Director Linda M. Christle who garnered the most recognition and adulation.

Christle, CEcD, has helmed Economic Development Sedalia Pettis County for the past 12 years, and announced her retirement in July. Jessica Craig was named her successor five weeks later.

On Thursday night, Christle was honored with kind words, resolutions, a proclamation, numerous hugs, a dozen roses and a very large black tool chest.

"I look around this room and I am so fortunate to see so many people who are such close friends," Christle said when she took the mic. "Everybody has a special place in my heart in different ways."

When she arrived in Sedalia from Beatrice, Neb., to interview for the job in 2004, she said she "accidentally fell in love with the community in my interview. I didn't want to, I had a home, I was happy, I had a job I was happy (with), and on the way home, I said 'darn it, I've done gone fallen in love with this town,' and here I am."

Company retention has been one of Christle's main themes throughout her tenure with EDSPC, and it started on day one. "Somebody needed to lead a charge ... to say thank you to the companies for being here, and make them understand and show them how important they were," Christle said.

She recalled one of her first speeches to a civic group. "You may think it's wonderful to get a company. Think back to how you felt when you lost one. It wasn't fun. People, your friends, were out of a job," she told the Optimists back in 2004.

She told the story of Duke Manufacturing, which needed badly to expand and had no where to go, and Christle promptly suggested the 500,000-square-foot Payless Building. "I was really proud of Duke Manufacturing. They had their ducks in a row, they knew what it was going them to cost to go into that building, and they were successful. And everyone in this room will understand when I say, what better statement can you get from a company when they reinvest in your community?" Christle said.

"They said we love Sedalia so much that we're going to put money back into the community, move into a 500,000 square-foot building from a 125,000-square-foot building," she recalled. "What a great story that you had a company that was here, and they reinvested in the community because they believed in you and they believed in their employees. I was just a caveat to help them find their way. But that's what I'm supposed to do. Because they're the success story, I'm not the success story."

A total of 224 people attended the 12th annual Milestone dinner hosted by Rusty Kahrs, president of the EDSPC Board.

"Our manufacturers encompass 29 percent of the employment base in Pettis County at an average wage of $45,000," Kahrs said during his remarks. "Each year we take this opportunity to pay tribute to the companies within those sectors we serve who are celebrating milestone anniversaries in Pettis County in five-year increments."

A list of the companies and the number of years they've done business in Pettis County follows:

*8760 Service group, five years

*Grellner Sales, five years

*Blue Demon Co., Inc., 20 years

*Key Hydraulics, 25 years

*SMC Electric, 30 years

*Smith Signs, 35 years

*Culligan Water Conditioning, 40 years

*Sedalia Steel and Wire Co., 40 years

*Vance Brothers, 40 years

*Neet Products, 60 years

*Praxair Distribution, 65 years

*Tallman Company of Sedalia, 65 years

*Parkhurst Manufacturing Co., Inc., 70 years

"Tonight is about our existing manufacturers, recognizing the milestones of years of service they're here in Sedalia and Pettis County for doing business here and keeping them strong and thriving and growing and creating great quality jobs here in our community," Craig commented after the dinner.

The 12 years that Linda has been here, she has generated a massive amount of momentum with embracing those existing manufacturers. And I want to do exactly that, continue that momentum and keep it going into the future," Craig added. "This is community is second to none throughout the state of Missouri ... we are poised for a lot of growth, and this is a community where a lot of happening, it's exciting."