Chamber experience not necessary for the next Fort Smith Chamber president

Early results from an informal survey conducted by The City Wire shows that Fort Smith area business and civic leaders don’t think previous chamber experience is an absolutely necessary criteria for the next president of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber President Tom Manskey announced Dec. 18 his resignation, which is effective Jan. 30.

On Friday, Dec. 19, The City Wire e-mailed about 50 area business and civic leaders and asked them several questions about the chamber and its upcoming search for a new boss. (The goal of The City Wire in this effort is to better involve the public in what should be a more dynamic public discussion about how the region conducts socio-economic development.)

The key players in economic development in the Fort Smith region in recent history have been the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, the city of Fort Smith and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. Within the past three years, transition has found all three of those key players. “If we are lucky, we might discover aggressive, accountable and sober economic development emerging from said transition,” noted a recent essay by The City Wire editor Michael Tilley.

Early responses from The City Wire survey suggest clear interest in the chamber finding a person who is responsible, aggressive and has a track record of business/development success.

“We should seek someone with a progressive mindset that has a vested interest in the region’s future, as opposed to just getting someone in the chamber ladder of success that is more interested in climbing and furthering their career,” noted Jake Files, a former state representative who now works in real estate development. “We should seek someone with political savvy and development experience; someone who will be a consensus builder and someone who CAN sell this area.”
Files also noted that “Chamber experience not a necessity.”
Philip Merry believes a Fort Smith native would be a good candidate. “You can always sell something better if you’re high familiar with it and are experienced with it,” he said.

What kind of person would Merry seek? “Super sharp individual with great (public relations) skills, hard-working, attractive, highly organized, friendly to all, loves people.  Strives for success in that he/she does. Good on finances and financial statement assessments in short time frames, good in developing impressive oral and power point presentations and mathematics. The consummate tour guide salesperson!”

Like Files, Merry doesn’t think previous chamber work is necessary. “Just because someone was previously a (chamber president) is not solid proof that they’ll succeed in the River Valley Region,” he said.

Other responses included:

• “While no one likes a board that micro-manages, the (chamber) board looks like it has been lazy and unwilling to exercise its responsibilities to chamber members and the community. The direction the board allowed the chamber to move during the Manskey era has been unusually inept.”

• “The Chamber should seek an out-going, willing to work, willing to go out and spread the word, person who will be enthusiastic about what Fort Smith has to offer and seek out the opportunities necessary to help the City and area grow and become more economically viable.”

• “The Chamber should take as long as it takes to find the right person. Putting a time frame on the issue may force a ‘square peg in a round hole’ and then the Chamber would be faced with the same situation in 18-24 months later. The hire is VERY important.”

• “Knowledge of the area would be good, but ‘from the area’ not necessary. Chamber experience again would be good, but more important should be economic development experience in working with companies relocating to new areas.”

The City Wire will update this post as more responses are received.