What in your previous roles prepared you for your new role at the chamber?
When you’re in community development, one of the prerequisites for leadership is the ability to bring people from different backgrounds together. Getting these people who represent different areas to talk about the issue of jobs is something I’m very passionate about. This is another opportunity for me to use those skills I’ve learned to bring people together.
Describe the new relationship between the chamber and Southwest Michigan First.
The Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors has contracted with Southwest Michigan First to perform and execute their programs, and I was asked to lead that effort.
What prompted the move to work more closely together?
It’s all about aligning missions so that everybody is thinking about creating jobs for small and medium size businesses across the board. It’s also about developing leaders and entrepreneurship in the region. It just makes sense.
What is your top priority as president of the chamber?
My number one priority is to ascertain the needs of our membership and meet those needs. We want to hear from our membership, and we sent a survey to our full membership to see what things we’re going to execute. … One area of focus will be centered around education. Our small businesses want real-time access to best practices for small businesses. They also want to know how to sell their product, expand their diversity of clients and get access to capital.
How will you get it done?
Our job is to recognize what those issues are and make sure small business is on the radar of local and public policy. We will be acting as an advocate on behalf of small business. The first year or two we will focus on local and regional leadership.
How will Southwest Michigan First’s regional approach impact the work of the chamber?
The impact would be to look for partnerships as a general practice. If we’ve got an education course at the chamber that goes really well, shame on us for not sharing that with other chambers. We will be reaching out to our partners to share, which creates value.
How will you balance your roles with the chamber and Southwest Michigan First?
Balance is a moving target. The work that I’ve been asked to do at Southwest Michigan First has a lot of similarities to the work I’ll be doing at the chamber. It truly is a team effort. I have the support of a great team of people.
Do you plan to add staff to the chamber?
We will be adding people to execute the work of the chamber. These positions will be membership-focused to work with our membership. We also will have opportunities for developing leaders and regional strategies, and public policy for small business. … There will be more than five added to the team.
What types of changes can members of the chamber expect to see?
There will be robust education and networking opportunities for businesses. There will be more opportunities to have their voice heard on public policy. There also will be a more streamlined process for membership with the chamber. Our job is to build.
What are the challenges facing the chamber?
We need to get people involved and make sure the services offered are well-attended and populated by people to maintain and grow our membership. … We need to serve our membership well, and through that there will be job growth and opportunities. A lot of work needs to be done.
How do you get individual municipalities to adopt a more regional approach?
I think they already are. The assumption is that they’re not. … There are far more walls down than standing today, and that’s a point of great pride for me.