Chamber Members Look For New Direction


In light of the recent resignation of Tom Kaleta, former CEO of the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, many local business owners and managers seem to agree on two points: The leadership style they think the chamber needs and the direction the organization should take under the new leader's administration.

To borrow President George W. Bush's phrase, the chamber's new top dog must be a uniter, not a divider.

"I think they need to get a little real, here," says Corky Barker, manager of the Inn of Payson, who does not mince words in expressing her displeasure with the chamber's previous leadership. "They don't need a big, corporate person in our little community who really doesn't care about the local businessmen.

"I don't want to see someone in there who only cares about the chamber becoming a successful business within itself. We need somebody who cares about the citizens and the community, number one; somebody who can bring us together as a team, and who doesn't have us all going in different directions."

Baker also says she'd like the chamber to "put more effort into promoting our town. I think we'd all benefit. Not just hotels, but gas stations, restaurants, everything.

"And it would be nice to see them try to blend the new with the old in an acceptable way," she says. "We have some heritage here, and I'd like to see it remain."

Taking the job to heart

Sean Sloan, co-owner of two local franchise eateries Famous Sam's and KFC echoes Barker's sentiments almost to the syllable.

"We need somebody who's got their heart in the town, who is for the people, the businesses and the community," he says. And if such a person is found, Sloan thinks local business people could find themselves supported by the strongest and most unifying chamber of commerce in the town's history.

"I'm very pleased with the staff and volunteers the chamber has right now," he says. "If they stay in place, and they find someone who fits into their style and their way of thinking and their programming, I think it will be beneficial to the town and its businesses."

Sloan, too, thinks that when the new leader is in place, promotion should be a top priority.

"The chamber used to be really good about promoting special events, but once they got into that bickering match about the rodeo rights, it all fell apart," he says. "In terms of sales, (the August rodeo) used to be one of the best weekends of the year, if not the best, for KFC. But it just keeps going further down the tubes.

"The chamber needs to get behind the June Bug Festival, the Fiddle Festival ... it needs to develop more fun activities and promotions to bring people up here."

Looking out for the little guy

Fran Yates, co-owner of the Rim Country Kids toy store, says that she hasn't been a chamber member for some time because, in part, "We really didn't feel it was focused on small retail businesses such as our own."

"When you travel around the country and familiarize yourself with the chambers of commerce in other places, one of their focuses seems to be public relations and introducing the community to new people," Yates says.

"I don't know that this has ever been done in an organized way (in Payson) ... I wonder if it's because they get so involved in economic development ... that they don't do anything else."

The primary qualification Yates hopes the chamber's new head honcho will possess, she says, is experience: "Someone who's worked with all facets of a community, and who knows how to utilize everybody's strengths so that it's cohesive and doesn't end up with everybody blaming someone else for things that aren't getting done."

The majority rules

The good news for these local business people is that Chamber President Michael Harper who emphasizes that he can only speak for himself and not his board agrees with them wholeheartedly.

"We're looking for a qualified person who will be able to establish a more personal relationship with the business people in town, and who has the ability to promote economic development in Payson," says Harper, an attorney with the Payson law firm of Walker and Harper. "There's a lot of different criteria we're looking for, of course, but those are the main ones."

Harper thinks the board may find such a person within one month, and almost certainly within two. "I don't think it's going to stretch on all summer or anything like that," he says.

Although the board is scouring the state for candidates, Harper says, "There's been some sentiment expressed that we'd like to find somebody local, and I agree with that. Somebody with some business experience and the ability to manage the chamber effectively and to keep on top of the finances which is obviously an important part of that job."

An equally vital qualification, Harper says, would be an ability to develop and maintain healthy, mutually beneficial relationships between the chamber and local businesses.

"I think there's been a little bit of a communication gap there," he says. "I'd like to see somebody come in and re-establish that connection. I mean, the chamber is accountable to its members; the members pay their dues, so they are entitled to feel like they're getting something in return ... That's important. That's fundamental to me.

"We're a nonprofit organization. We exist to advance the interests of the membership. That's why we're there. If people feel like we're not doing that, then we're obviously not doing what we're supposed to be doing."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.