After weeks of narrowing down the stack of applications, the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce has found its new manager.
Thomas Kaleta of Augusta, Ga. will start as the chamber's new manager Dec. 1. He replaces Tori Ferrari, who will be retiring at the end of the year.
Kaleta said making his way to Payson from the south was kind of a natural progression.
"My wife and I honeymooned in Tucson 30 years ago," he said. The newlyweds loved the charm of the Southwest, and after living in the Chicago and Atlanta areas, decided in recent years to make Arizona their new home.
After four years of false starts, the Kaletas finally moved west to Scottsdale, where they set up a temporary residence while deciding where they wanted to live.
"We didn't know if Scottsdale would be the right place for us," he said. After a couple of months, they decided to look elsewhere. "The traffic was horrible, and the glitz of Scottsdale is really only skin deep," he said.
Their search led them up the Beeline Highway, where they intend to enjoy a quieter life in the cool pines.
"We want to simplify, to spend more time for us," he said.
After working nearly an entire career in the publishing industry, Kaleta admits his venture into the chamber world was not in his original plan.
While working as publisher for the City Magazine Group of Athens, Augusta and Savannah, Ga., he said he received a call from two prominent southern businessmen.
"I got a call in November (1997) from the president of Coca-Cola and the chairman of the Georgia Bank and Trust," he said, "and they asked if I'd like to come and see them." Assuming it had to do with one of his magazines, Kaleta obliged, and found himself on the doorway of a new career. The two men told Kaleta they were aware of his background, he said, and wanted him to "fix the chamber for them." Again, he obliged.
"A lot of what I did as a publisher is really akin to chamber work," Kaleta said, "because you work with the major employers, the major business entities in the community, so it really wasn't much of a departure as I thought it would be."
It was his overall experience that swung the chamber board members, said Chamber President Lynn Welnick.
"He spend this past year as president of the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce, and had a lot of success with that chamber," she said. "We think his background is really going to be good for the Payson area."
Kaleta said his experience includes key facets of the Rim country economy.
"I think I bring a maturity and understanding of what it takes to do business," Kaleta said. "I've been involved in resort travel for a very long time, and I understand what it takes to make tourism a growing piece of an economy."