“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”
President + CEO
As a 7th generation Kentuckian, Chris Girdler’s roots run strong and deep throughout his hometown of Somerset and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Having an extensive background in both the public and private sector, Chris is SPEDA’s president and chief executive officer.
Girdler is an entrepreneur at heart and has a passion for the business world as well as public and community service. His background displays a lengthy amount of experience in all the above and began at an early age.
The son of a school teacher and professional upholsterer, and the grandson of the inventor of the houseboat, Jim Sharpe, Chris learned at an early age the value of hard work and treating others with respect. Chris graduated from the public school system in Pulaski County where he Varsity lettered in basketball and was a National Honor Society member. He later attended Eastern Kentucky University where he graduated with a bachelor of business administration degree.
Given his love of the houseboat industry, Chris began working immediately upon graduation as vice president of Sharpe Houseboats and remained in that role for five years, until the call for public service was too great to deny. Having interned in the Washington, D.C. office of Congressman Hal Rogers during his college years, Girdler used that experience to begin a tenure serving as a congressional aide for Congressman Rogers, later becoming a loyal and dedicated district chief of staff.
The experience gained during those six years in the congressman’s office led Girdler to seek out elected office himself, wherein the spring of 2012 he held off many challengers and won a four-way primary by a large majority. He was later sworn in and served as a state senator for the 15th District of Kentucky. During his time working in the Capitol, he formed and chaired the Tourism Development Subcommittee, as well as serving as chairman of the Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee. He was vice-chairman of the Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee while also serving on the Banking and Insurance Committee, the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, the Agriculture Committee and the Appropriations and Revenue Committee.
While serving as senator, Girdler was recognized with various awards and recognitions including being given the Kentucky Retail Federations’ Champion and Legislator of the Year, the Kentucky Marina Association’s Legislator of the Year, the Kentucky Chiropractors’ Legislator of the Year and the American Conservative Union’s Conservative Excellence Award. In addition, Girdler was selected as a delegate to travel to Israel on behalf of AIPAC and was honored to be a commencement speaker for various graduation ceremonies over the years.
With the upcoming birth of Girdler’s second daughter, he made the difficult decision not to seek reelection to allow him to spend more time with his family. After serving out his four-year term, Girdler reentered the houseboat industry and spent close to a year overseeing and working as president and CEO of newly merged houseboat manufacturer Trifecta Houseboats. However, he felt an entrepreneurial calling to focus on his consulting and investment company founded in 2011 called Possum Trot Investments, LLC. The company, named after the small community he was raised in, Possum Trot, is a tribute to the pride he takes having grown up in rural Kentucky. The firm is an investment and consulting company that provides a broad array of consulting and advisory services and oversees various investments ranging from real estate to houseboats.
As an appreciative citizen of the opportunities he has been given, Girdler spends much of his time, money and energy giving back and helping with issues of importance to the community and his family. He is a fourth-generation member of First Baptist Church of Somerset. He serves or has served as a director on many boards including The Center for Rural Development, Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, Somerset Community College Foundation, Mill Springs Battlefield Association, Pulaski County Educational Consortium, Republican Party of Kentucky’s Executive Committee and various bank advisory boards.
Girdler also served as president of the Pulaski County Lincoln Club for three years and as president of the 5th District Lincoln Club for one year. In addition to his service on the Somerset-Pulaski Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, he was elected president of the organization in 2014. He was also instrumental in founding the Somerset Christian School Foundation where he served as president for a year. Prior to his service in Frankfort, Girdler was honored by his alma mater as Eastern Kentucky University’s Alumni of the Year.
Girdler is an avid outdoorsman and family man. He and his wife, Courtney, reside in Somerset with their two young daughters Charleston (10) and Channing (4).
Executive Assistant + CAO
Jessica Carlton is SPEDA’s executive assistant and chief accounting officer (CAO).
A graduate of Pulaski County High School, Carlton attended Eastern Kentucky University. She worked in the banking industry for more than a decade, served as an office manager for several years and later joined the Somerset-Pulaski Chamber of Commerce as finance director, where she stayed for five years.
Carlton is a board member of United Way and serves as co-chair of Lake Cumberland Area Heart Walk. She lives in Shopville with her husband, Nathan, where they own and operate a cattle farm and have two children — son Hunter and daughter Taylor.