A secret weapon in North Suffolk

Published 8:36 pm Monday, July 19, 2010

When companies send representatives to Suffolk to scout out possible new locations for their business outlets, city officials are sure to show them the very best of Suffolk. The best potential sites and buildings to house the proposed facilities, the best available housing within the financial means of the people who would be expected to work there — those are the bread and butter of an expanding company’s visit to Suffolk.

But members of Suffolk’s Department of Economic Development might want to consider making the McDonald’s restaurant on College Drive a regular stop in the future.

In many ways, the restaurant is just like every other McDonald’s in America. The menu features the same food, the golden arches are familiar, and even the colors are like those of its sister restaurants. But the College Drive location has one feature that economic development officials should be excited to show potential new employers: Harriet King.

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King has been a greeter and cashier at the fast-food restaurant since 2003. In an industry known for high turnover, short-term employees and disinterested — if not downright surly — service, King is a breath of fresh air. Her positive attitude and obvious love for people have endeared her to a group of customers who probably would be hard-pressed to recognize, much less count as a friend, anybody standing behind a cash register at any other fast food franchise around the region.

King — and others like her — should be the face that economic development officials endeavor to show visiting corporate chiefs. Those fine folks are the embodiment of the claim that is too often a cliché: Our strength is our people. It’s easy to make that claim — and communities across the nation do so every day, thinking the words somehow set them apart from others competing to attract business and industry.

King and many others in Suffolk, however, put flesh and bones on the claim, give it a sincere voice and demeanor and infuse it with an honest desire to help out that rings clear in the greeting: “Hi, angel! What can I get for you, sweetheart?”

It might come as a surprise that Suffolk’s most potentially effective ambassador works in a busy fast food restaurant. Considering the number of people who pass through that restaurant’s doors in a week, though, King is well positioned to spread her good cheer far and wide from behind a cash register in North Suffolk.

Now all the city needs to do is find a dozen others just like her and make sure they’re working in high-profile places around Suffolk. The results could be impressive — both economically and for the city’s collective psyche.