Fort Smith Chamber announces leadership transition

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 114 views 

The Board of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday (June 11) announced a leadership transition plan that will see Paul Harvel, CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, leave the chamber on Dec. 31, 2013, and Tim Allen become the chamber’s president and CEO.

Allen, who joined the chamber in November 2011 as chief operations officer, recently added the president title to reflect his growing role in economic development efforts and day-to-day chamber management. Prior to joining the chamber staff, Allen spent 11 years with the  Arkansas Economic Development Commission as a project manager and 17 years with CenterPoint Energy in a variety of sales and marketing roles.

Harvel, a 45-year veteran of chamber work, joined the chamber in May 2009. Harvel has served as president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce for two years, and served more than 20 years as the president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. When he began working for the Fort Smith Chamber, he was a commissioner on the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Over the course of his career, Harvel received many honors and recognitions, according to the chamber statement. In 1987, he started the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2005, he was honored with the Chairman’s Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). This award is given to an individual that has made a significant contribution to ACCE and the Chamber profession. He also started Leadership Little Rock in 1985 and Leadership Arkansas in 2006.

But don’t consider Harvel’s career at an end.

“I will never retire. That’s one thing that is not on my agenda,” Harvel said during a phone interview.

Between now and the end of the year, Harvel said his job will focus on governmental affairs projects related to economic development – for example, lobbying to convince Congress to pay to create and maintain a 12-foot channel depth on the Arkansas River. The channel is now maintained to a 9-foot depth. Advocates of the 12-foot channel depth say it will increase barge usage on the river, increase Arkansas exports and make the state more attractive for economic development.

Harvel also said he plans to continue visiting chamber members.

“Something I’m really proud of is that I have visited right at 700 members. I was actually in their office, not just on the phone. I am proud of that and I enjoyed that very much,” Harvel said.

Harvel’s wife, Barbara, has also been active in the community and now work as the executive director of the Leadership Fort Smith program.

His almost five years has coincided with a relatively jobless national economic recovery that has not been kind to the Fort Smith regional economy. Harvel acknowledged the tough economic conditions in noting that the chamber didn’t hire a consultant or fundraiser but was still able to raise $2.2 million to support economic development efforts.

“We raised that money, your chamber staff raised that money at a time when times were not all that good,” Harvel said.

He’s also pleased with his role in creating the Fort Smith Regional Council. The council, announced in May 2012, is a collection of area business leaders “who have a lot of ability” within their respective companies to “exert influence,” Harvel has said. He has also said he believes the council may emulate the success of the Northwest Arkansas Council and a group formed in 1963 in Little Rock.

“I think in the long run that’s (council) going to turn out to be a good deal for this region and the economy,” Harvel said Tuesday.

Harvel also said he was proud to have played a part in helping Golden Living consolidate administrative functions at the company’s administrative center in Fort Smith.

Officials with Golden Living, a healthcare services company, announced in March 2011 plans to add at least 200 jobs at the Fort Smith admin center as part of a consolidation plan. The jobs consolidated most of the company’s billing for its various subsidiaries in the 5-story, 318,000-square-foot Fort Smith building.

A more than $1.5 million incentive package from the Arkansas Governor’s office and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and a smaller incentive from the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce helped secure the jobs.

Kelli Luneborg, public relations director for Plano, Texas-based Golden Living, recently said employment at the Fort Smith admin center has grown from 675 in March 2011 to 923 people as of May 20.

“We could have had a loss of jobs there, but we had a 200 (jobs) gain if not more,” Harvel said of the effort to recruit the consolidation to Fort Smith.

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