After 13 years, Wayne Mays retired as head of the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce at the end of 2019.
Mays’ post-retirement career still focuses on economic development, but it’s with another chamber in the region — and with a broader focus.
Mays spent much of 2021 getting acclimated as a senior policy adviser with the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. It’s a part-time role, working for one of his longtime friends Steve Clark, the chamber’s CEO.
“My wife Barbara says I have failed at retirement twice — AT&T in 2001 and the Siloam Springs chamber in 2019,” Mays joked. “But I like to keep busy and part-time work is great for an old retiree.”
Mays, a board member for nonprofit groups Arkansas Right to Life and Arkansas Senior Olympics, said he and his wife moved back toward the Interstate 49 corridor after he retired in Siloam Springs at the request of their daughter and her family.
“So they can take care of us,” he joked.
At the Fayetteville chamber, Mays’ focus is to launch and oversee Clark’s vision for a program called the Heartland Advanced Medical Manufacturing Regional Cluster. It’s a nonprofit corporation referred to as HAMMRC.
Citing research showing a lack of medical manufacturing in the region, the Fayetteville Economic Authority Board, under Clark’s direction, started laying the groundwork two years ago for HAMMRC to focus on that sector.
In September, the Fayetteville chamber and the Tahlequah (Okla.) Regional Development Authority announced a partnership to promote the concept. HAMMRC geographically includes nine cities and the Cherokee Nation Reservation.
According to Mays, the goal is to attract, develop and maintain a presence of professional healthcare manufacturers in the Northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma region. The development of medical device and instrument manufacturing is consistent with the regional goal of becoming a healthcare destination.
“The focus is on small towns along the Highway 62 corridor, plus Elkins, all the way to Tahlequah, Okla.,” Mays said. “Steve and I had worked together as chamber presidents extolling the virtues of Northwest Arkansas for about 12 years, so this ‘mini-region’ project seemed a good fit for both of us.”
To join the cluster, HAMMRC member cities are required to make a nominal financial buy-in and pledge to obtain control of at least 5 acres of “site-ready” land to market to manufacturing prospects. So far, Farmington; Stilwell, Okla.; and the Cherokee Nation are existing members. Mays said other cities have expressed interest.
Ironically, Mays’ counterpart in Tahlequah is Nathan Reed, president and CEO at the Tahlequah Regional Development Authority and Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce.
Before that, he worked with Mays as the Siloam Springs chamber’s vice president of economic development and finance.
The HAMMRC board’s next meeting is Friday (Jan. 14) at 10 a.m. in the Rozell Ballroom at the Indian Capital Technology Center in Tahlequah. Farmington Mayor Ernie Penn is the board chair.
The board meets bi-monthly at rotating locations in Northwest Arkansas and Northeast Oklahoma.