Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group

President Diane Schwenke - Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce - The Christi Reece Group Full Circle Podcast

April 20, 2022 President Diane Schwenke Season 2 Episode 3
Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group
President Diane Schwenke - Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce - The Christi Reece Group Full Circle Podcast
Show Notes Transcript

Christi sits down with Diane Schwenke, outgoing President of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, for this month's Full Circle Podcast. Diane talks about her 30+ year career at the Chamber, the ups and downs through it all, and what's next for the Chamber and her!

If you prefer to watch your podcasts, check out this and all our episodes on our YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/Christireecegroup

Speaker 1:

The full circle podcast, compelling interviews and incredible tales from Colorado's Western slope, from the mountains to the desert Christie , Reese , and her team here from the movers, shakers, and characters of the grand valley and surrounding mountain towns that make the Western slope, the place we all love. You'll learn. You'll laugh. You'll love with the full circle. Hi everybody. And welcome back to the full circle podcast. I'm Christy Reese , and I am honored today to welcome our guest, Diane swanky , the president and CEO of the grand junction area chamber of commerce. Welcome Diane.

Speaker 2:

Thank you. Thanks for having me. Yeah,

Speaker 1:

Well , uh , as I'm sure everyone knows you , you have just announced your retirement after 33 years with the chamber of commerce. So congratulations.

Speaker 2:

Thank

Speaker 1:

You. And thanks for your service. Um, so many things to talk about, but let's just start with , um, how did you get to grand junction?

Speaker 2:

So that's a funny story <laugh> because I never actually interviewed or applied for this job. Um, I , I actually, at that point in time, the, what was the predecessor to the grand junction economic partnership , um, had advertised for an executive director. And I was with a small chamber back in Nebraska that did all of it, did tourism, economic development and chamber. And so I applied and I was one of the finalists. They flew me in. Um, and , uh , we had interviews and apparently I was one of the top two or something. They were just getting ready to come back to my community in Nebraska and talk to my leadership. And I got a call from pat Gorley for anyone who remembers the goly family. And he goes, well, we're sorry, but our executive director decided to stay. And I'm like, okay, well, that's great. It's a wonderful community. Um, you know, I wish you all the best. And about a week later, they called up and said, Hey, we also have this chamber , um, that we really need a director for. And I'm like, well, I don't know. I mean, honestly, at that point in time, our chamber of commerce was a mess mm-hmm <affirmative> . Um, but I said, okay, I'm willing to come out and talk to you again. And so this time my husband came with me. Um, and , uh , at the end of the day, you know, some of the former fathers of the community in terms of bill Sissen and , um , Jim Fleming and Greg Hoskin , um , met with a lot of the board members, really loved the community. And so I accepted the position to come here. So it was almost accidental, but probably not probably it was the best decision I ever made in terms of both a personal life and career, because I love the grand valley.

Speaker 1:

Were you very familiar with grand junction when you had the interview?

Speaker 2:

Not at all. The very first, when I came out and talked to the G folks was the very first time I had been, I think, across the Rockies to visit a community. I had spent a little bit of time in Greeley with their chamber of commerce , um, was familiar with Denver, but had really never , never even been to Colorado or Colorado Springs, never even been to Glenwood Springs , um, and

Speaker 1:

Made that trip over the past yet.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I hadn't done that. And actually they flew me in. So the first thing I saw was the book cliffs and everybody out there on their dirt bags . And I'm like, well, this looks interesting. <laugh> yeah . Cause I came back from where there was a lot of farm land , you know, I grew up in Northern Iowa, so everything was green , um , and crops. And so getting used to even the concept of public lands and the fact that, you know, you can't just drill a well for water, all of these things, a Midwesterner just doesn't really appreciate until you go through it. Um , so, but again, it was , um , it was probably the people , um , as much as the landscape that drew me here.

Speaker 1:

And what was your experience that they , uh , that you had with this kind of organization that made them wanna hire you?

Speaker 2:

Thank you. Um , so I actually started out my career working for the state of Nebraska. Um , and I worked for their department of transportation for a few years, and then I worked for their department of economic development. Um, and I had a territory and I helped a lot of small communities with community and economic development. And then I actually decided that, you know, it's great coming in and giving advice, but you never actually kind of, you know, dig in and actually get to see a project go all the way through and help yeah .

Speaker 1:

Follow through with it . Yeah .

Speaker 2:

The whole follow through . So I decided that I really wanted to be in a community and work for that community. So I started looking at economic development positions cuz that's where my roots were. Um, and so there was a position in Greeley as the economic development manager at that point for of their chamber, went on staff there , um, for a short period of time, got to know the folks in Colorado , um, actually worked on this is ancient history for a lot of people <laugh> but I actually worked on the suns strand project. Oh wow. As Greeley was a contender for the suns strand project that ultimately ended up here in grand junction. Um, and yeah. And so, you know, how things come full circle. And I was hearing about this place way out west that was also trying to attract suns strand . Um, and , uh , it was interesting process. And then ultimately I got drawn back to Nebraska to kind of head up my own organization. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um , and I was with the Ric chamber for full one and a half years. And as I've mentioned, kind of did all of it. We were a one and a half man shop. Um, so that , and in , and back in those days, the way, way back, if you wanted to advance in this industry , um, as in terms of managing chambers or managing economic development organizations, typically you had to move, move up to a community that was larger in size. Right. And so grand junction at that time boasted , um , an overall population of around 40 to 45,000, I was in a town of 13 to 15,000. So it was kind of a natural progression,

Speaker 1:

But the population in the valley, what would you say that it was at that time?

Speaker 2:

Oh, the whole valley? Um, probably 60, maybe 65,000.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And what did the chamber look like then? You said it was kind of a mess. It was

Speaker 2:

A big

Speaker 1:

Mess . So when you got here, what , what was the state of the chambers?

Speaker 2:

So it was , um, they had just, the chamber had built this building as a lot of people did in the oil shell boom and ultimate crash. Um, they had invested in building a brand new building. Um, they were heavily in debt. A lot of the businesses at that point in time couldn't even afford, you know, any sort of a me membership in the organization. Um, they had , uh , for gone some , um , city funding by backing the wrong candidates in a Rico election. I mean all kinds of interesting things going on. Um, so when I got here , um, I asked, you know, some basic questions, like how many members do we have? Um, we think we have 450, but there was no database. Um, there was no, yeah, there really wasn't a good, and a lot of people had been just carried on the roles cuz again, just like we did in the recent pandemic, but it was time to move on. Um, and then it was, I got after I got here, I said, well, what's the , um , and they're like budget, budget, what's

Speaker 1:

Budget <laugh> what do you mean budget ? They

Speaker 2:

Had , they had actually gone through three directors in five years. Um, and so they were between directors. Um, the thing though, again, that has always impressed me throughout the entire time was a leadership at the chamber. At that point in time, they knew they had a mess, they knew they needed to make change. They had already gone out to the members who were paying and said, we need help to get stabilized here. So would you double down on your membership dues for this year so that we can really kind of get back on our feet? Um, they refinanced the note on the building so were already in process and that was probably the thing that encouraged me the most.

Speaker 1:

You saw some proactivity from the board

Speaker 2:

Mm-hmm <affirmative> the , the board and in , and in any organization like a chamber, you know, you've gotta have the board buy-in and the board buy-in was there. Um, I remember one of them at one point in some of the meet and greet saying, we do not want to be the chamber that goes bankrupt. Right. Um, and that, but they were, they were in some desperate

Speaker 1:

Straights and there were plenty of others at that time that were going bankrupt.

Speaker 2:

Yes , absolutely. Yeah . Um , so yeah, so it was, but again, there had already been some real demonstrated leadership and some, you know, let's get going let's, let's, let's move forward and let's stabilize the organization and become, you know, the organization that can really represent the community and the business community.

Speaker 1:

So from my perspective, the, the role of a chamber of commerce has changed greatly. I mean, as in many industries with the technology that's happened , uh , the ability to network without being in the same place and things like that. Um, talk about what you saw as the chambers role when you started and how that has evolved in your 33 years with grand junction chamber.

Speaker 2:

Well , um, and again, we were , uh , we've referred to it kind of, as the, you know, most of the chambers back then were the three P chambers. They were all about, you know, pageants and pancake feeds and parades , um , but really very much event driven . Um , and, and the one thing that they really did never let go of , um , and we haven't is the networking in person through business after hours. Um , and this , so

Speaker 1:

That's a really old tradition

Speaker 2:

That pre-date it's me. So that tells you how old that sucker is. Um, but yes, and it , and when I got here, people said, you know, people really like to do business with people, they know. Um , and I think that has diminished some with the technology and coming through the pandemic and the zoom meetings, but this is a community that still very much values the personal relationships. Um, and so that's, we were pretty much focused on that. Um , and in terms of any other programming, our largest group of volunteers , um , they were then known as the Rangers. They are now known as the diplomats. Um , but that was our largest cadre of volunteers. Um , so they were out there doing visitations with cutting ribbons. Um, we were really trying to kind of get businesses to feel good about the fact that things were picking up. Um, cuz it hadn't been that long since black Sunday and all of the , all of the, you know, stories I heard when I got here about how those first few years were. So there was a lot to terms of just helping businesses kind of get back on their feet and grow mm-hmm <affirmative> um, so yeah, that was, and it was, that was kind of the focus of our programming. We didn't have a lot of committees at that point. Um, and uh, other outside of our, our ranger slash diplomat group mm-hmm

Speaker 1:

<affirmative> and so what, what do you see now as the main focus of the chamber of commerce here and is that mission continually evolving?

Speaker 2:

So I'll answer the second question first, cuz it's the easiest and the answer is yes. Um, it is constantly and the pace of change and, and evolution is picking up. Um, but I think, you know, now this chamber sees its role as more of a three C chamber. So we are a catalyst , um , for economic growth and we are a convener of community leaders that come together to address community issues. Um, and we're just a , a champion of the community in the, in the improvement of the community and you know, the quality of life. Um, that phrase wasn't used very much back in the early nineties, it was more about, is there a job for me? Um, so all of those sorts of things, so we've changed, we're much more focused on community building, business, building , um, being a strong voice for business. Uh , I think that probably has been the strongest thing that has , um, appealed to our members and possibly also cause friction , um, as we've done that, but the, the pace of government regulation and government , um, basically telling you how to run your business has, has greatly increased in the last probably decade , um , on both sides. So that advocacy having somebody in the room, that's a voice for you , um , and then comes back and tells you what's going on mm-hmm

Speaker 1:

<affirmative>. And how do you think the chamber does with communicating with its members now? I mean, is it a , um, easier to communicate and get the message out with the new technology? Is it harder? Um, what's it like to, to get that information out to your members?

Speaker 2:

So it's easier to get it composed and out. It's harder to get it noticed because there is so much out there , um, you know,

Speaker 1:

So much noise,

Speaker 2:

There's so much noise and everybody's getting a hundred emails a day or sometimes an hour. Um, and you know, the social media is constantly , uh , in your face. So it's so getting the message to be recognized has probably become much more challenging for us. Um, but yes, you know, I can, can be, I can remember when I was resistant to the idea of electronic newsletters. Yeah . Um, it's like, oh, nobody's gonna read that. Um, and you know, as we've transitioned, the technology is such that , um, people also have become skimmer scanners. So you don't do a lot of in depth articles on issues. You need to kind of , you know, give them a paragraph or two , um , and then follow up for the ones that are really interested in that topic. So while it's easier to get the message out there, it's much, much harder to get it noticed.

Speaker 1:

And um, I'd like to talk about the role of the chamber during the pandemic, because I think that , um, you played such an amazing in keeping this community, the businesses in this community, afloat by creating new programs and just being proactive with trainings and all kinds of stuff. Can you talk about how that process went for you? And I , I can't imagine what it was like. Um, I mean, I I'm on the currently on the board of directors and we did talk about a lot of these things, but to get hit in the face as a business community with this kind of , um, tragedy and pandemic is shocking and trying to devise a plan to make it better is really difficult. How did you go about, and what was the process of thinking like what can we do to help our businesses?

Speaker 2:

So , um, thank you for that, cuz I think that was probably the shiny moment for our community and our chamber in terms of how we handled, you know, something that was outside the control of the business community and, and its citizens when we did the lockdown. Um, so our process was , um, I have a great team at the chamber and I think it's important that I acknowledge that we started meeting on a daily basis, starting the day of the governor's declaration , um, because we never turned off our phones. Um, and we were all we were while we were all remote. We were still on our email else cuz that very first day I remember there were lots of questions about essential businesses can stay open. Am I an essential business? Right.

Speaker 1:

We didn't even know now , now we know all about that. Right. We do, we know the beginning ,

Speaker 2:

Know about it. Um , and we were fortunate in that we had the zoom platform before a lot of others did because we were already using it for our governmental affairs programming. So we had been using zoom to communicate with our legislators over in Denver. So we had a zoom account. Um, so we just, all of us as a staff could zoom together every morning , um, and just started saying, okay, what are they gonna need? What can we do? Um, and, and what can we frankly steal because , um, there were other chambers out there that were like us, let's get proactive, let's get in front of it, let's see what we can do to help. And they had some great ideas. Um, and there were other chambers who just kind of basically closed the door and closed up the hole and put the covers over their heads. Um, and so I'm really proud that we were out there so that, so it was like, okay, so they need to know what's an essential business. Well, let's do a webinar, we've got the capability to do it with the zoom. Um, and then there were questions around , um, also , uh , where can we get P P P equipment? And then it was , um, questions around, how can we get , um , particularly those who were shut down for so long, like our restaurants, how can we help them? So we added a takeout toolkit to our website so that people could go order and pick up. Um, and then there were the programs to help you with funding, which were incredibly confusing and, you know, P P loans and ID loans or PPP programs, those were grants. But anyway, but again, it was like, and then there's an idle loan. And then the city of grand junction, God bless them , said, we need to get money on the streets to these businesses now. So we have a program. And so our team was monitoring all of this. We all kind of brought these ideas together. We got them out , um , quickly and electronically. And the other thing we did was because we had strong partnerships, we were working with our partners like the business incubator center , um, that could come in and say, okay, we can do virtual coaching with our , um, our S BDC counselors. And, and let's get John on there talking about all of our programs , uh , that the incubator already had that could help you in terms of, you know, predicting your cashflow and all of that. And so we had strong partnerships , um, and you ironically, one of our strong partnerships that did not exist in any other community that I've, that I have found was the relationship that we had with Mesa county public health department. So Jeff and his people over there. Um , first of all, they were a member of ours. We had interacted with them , some of the healthcare issues around business, we had a relationship. Um, and so being able to have Jeff come on and talk about how to keep your places safe and, you know, he was, and what's going on now with the COVID cuz things were moving so quickly. So being able to do all of that , um, and leverage those, I think was key.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And I, not that I'm fully aware of the processes that other communities went through, but I think that we were a little bit unique in having that relationship where our health department was not necessarily focused only on business, but really did a lot to help the businesses. You know, it wasn't just about , um, the healthcare side of it. It was about how do we get our businesses back open. They really focused on that.

Speaker 2:

They did. And that was that's unique in Jeff's character. I can't say enough about Jeff cor , but he said from the very beginning, you know, that yes, we want people to, to be healthy, but we also need a healthy economy to keep our people healthy. Mm-hmm <affirmative> , um, you know, people isolated and sitting at home , um, have a whole host of other problems that can come into play on with regard to mental health and physical health. Um, and so he totally understood that , um, and really worked hard with all of us and was a huge champion with the state. Um, again, it was, it was, it was pretty amazing. And I didn't see that I had other chambers that were reaching out to us saying, how can you do these things? Um , and I'm like, because we have a strong partner that understands economic health , um, over at Mesa county public health.

Speaker 1:

Wonderful <affirmative> and, and it's hard to believe. I don't know . I think about PPP loans. It seems like it was so long ago. I know for me <laugh> thank goodness. I mean, I'm glad that's way in the past. Hopefully never to be visited again. Right. I

Speaker 2:

For sure. But at the time, you know what, they really did do a lot in terms of helping our businesses. So there's no doubt about that. Um, and again, our businesses didn't wanna rely on those sorts of things. Um, our loan programs , um , even though businesses were hurting, they didn't wanna take out a loan cuz they didn't know when they might be able to repay it and they didn't really wanna take , um , even some of the grant funds because that's just not who we are. Um , and we knew that because we were also surveying them about every two or three weeks saying how you doing, what do you need, what's going on with you? Um , and that again, helped us get resources to them even more quickly.

Speaker 1:

How many surveys did you send out during the pandemic? Would you say? Well,

Speaker 2:

During 2020 , um, we did eight, so at least once a month , um, we were trying to kind of hit that balance of not bugging you, but also finding out what was going on altogether. We probably, I , you know, we cut back on them in 2021, but we probably did throughout that 18 month period, we probably did about 15 or 16 mm-hmm <affirmative>

Speaker 1:

And invaluable information to hear from your members.

Speaker 2:

It was, and it also helped us , um, with when we were talking to the state and we were talking to others about what the business community needed, cuz we have anecdotal information, which helps, but we could go in and say, Hey, 40% of our membership. Um , at this point doesn't even wanna look at a loan or 20% of our businesses right now are operating on two months or less reserves. So we need to get some things out there on the street we could give real time data mm-hmm <affirmative>

Speaker 1:

Fantastic. Um, <affirmative> what do you think? Um , the grand junction chamber has to offer the state and the region as far as , um , our businesses and our location and how, I mean you have relationships with strong relationships with leaders in all areas of the state and the region. How does grand junction into that ? And , and what's the future of our chamber here?

Speaker 2:

So I think , um, overall the grand junction area itself has so much to offer the state. And I think because we kind of suffer from this outta sight out of mind mentality too often , um, at the state, which I think is why we have kind of beefed up our presence and , and actually weighing in on state legislation and meeting with the governor and just kind of those sorts of things. Um, because they don't realize all we have to offer, they don't realize, I mean the tourism aspect of it is probably the easiest sell mm-hmm <affirmative> . Um , and we see a lot of that, but we're also seeing a lot of people post, I make the speed up , speeding up of remote workers, retirement. Um, and we're seeing those residents move over here because we still have the kind of quality of life. And I love Christie Pollard . Um , our farmer GJA directors comment . It's like, we are the Colorado you were promised and we're still that Colorado. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

As much as we're growing right now, it still feels like a small town.

Speaker 2:

It definitely does. Yeah . Um , and I hope we always hold onto

Speaker 1:

That. I hope so too. Um, speaking of G E I'd like to hear about the, how you connected G E in the chamber and, and what you felt that , um, <affirmative> the different roles of those two organizations were. I know there were some times when it got a little Rocky and who's doing what and , uh, how , how has that progressed and where do you think it is now?

Speaker 2:

So thanks for that question, cuz it , it has been kind of all over the board. Um, and you know, I , I've kind of lost count of how many GJA directors I've interacted with <laugh> throughout this period of time. But I think we owe the city of grand junction , um, a big thank you because they actually commissioned an economic development study back at about 2015. Um, it was called the north star Stu and it was like, how do we progress economically? Because we were not coming back from the recession. Um, as, as well as other areas were and the consultants actually came up with, they talked to all of us, they talked to board members, they talked to businesses and they came up with this wonderful one pager that we actually signed off on as an you , between our three organizations, G E the incubator and the chamber that said, we work together on all of this, but if it is business recruitment, then there is no question that is G GS . They are, they are lead and incubator and chamber. You , you are playing supporting roles. If it's existing business retention, expansion chamber, you are the lead, but you have supporting roles from G E and the incubator. And then the incubator really is the lead when it comes to entrepreneurial and startups and, and actually having that. I mean, there's, there's, it's not always as clear cut . It never is, but it at least having that down on paper and building the relationships around it and working on projects and doing handoffs and, and even the working together on projects was something that has really come a long ways in the last five or six years. Mm-hmm <affirmative> . Um, and that relationship, I think, will continue into the future. I think there's some roles with regard to redevelopment and some other things that maybe again, we're all evolving, we're all changing. So I think it's, it may be time to kind of revisit that a little bit, but actually having a, you take lead here, I'll support you there. Um , just even having that mindset , um, helps us work so much better together for the benefit of those businesses.

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm, <affirmative> three amazing organizations with similar but different roles. And I think you , there is some crossover. And so I think sometimes the consumer wonders, where should I start if I need help with something. Um, but it's good to hear that you, that the , those relationships are, are complimenting each other more than ever.

Speaker 2:

They totally are. And much more than ever, much more than 10 years ago, 15 years ago. And again, it's, it's one of those things where we have a agreement that, you know, if , if I have a relationship with a business and that's where they feel comfortable coming into play, then that's great. And it , when we get to the point where for instance , um , G E has a lead role in terms of accessing state incentives. So we have one handout at the state and not two or three competing ones. Then we work together and G E takes on that role. And we work together around that. If it's somebody that G E has a good relationship with already, perhaps that they've brought in and they're looking to expand again, we have the crossover and the relationships, and we just work it together. We just wanna make sure there's no gaps.

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, mm-hmm <affirmative> what would you say, Diane , uh , are the biggest challenges that you've based during your tenure at the chamber?

Speaker 2:

Oh my goodness. <laugh> there , there were lots of challenges. Um, uh , you know, probably , um, from my perspective , um, a challenge that I have on an ongoing basis, and it's not a big surprise to anybody is that we have a board of directors that serve one, four year term. And so the board is constantly in motion, and I think it's actually a strength for the organization, but from the, you know, executive director, CEO seat, there's a lot of , um, turnover. There's a lot of turnover on your board. So having a lot of those conversations and, you know, resisting the , um , we've already did that mentality sometimes is very tough. Um, so that's

Speaker 1:

Because half the people in the room don't know about what happened three years ago.

Speaker 2:

Well, and it may be time to do it again. I mean, so, but that, that, that has been a bit of a challenge. And I think the other challenge we get into, and it is that , um, I see , um , people silo or an organization silo , um, and that's just not how we move forward and how we get things done. Um, and so I've seen that in various organizations, various government entities over the years, and trying to get through that , um, and get to a place where we can work together has probably been hard mm-hmm

Speaker 1:

<affirmative>. And what would you say are your, your favorite moments or some of your , um , successes there?

Speaker 2:

So , um, I, I , I probably, because it's in my brain engraved so deeply, but I really think the five star program was the success. I mean, and it was, we all had a role to play , um, you know, Jeff and his people in terms of coming up with the, the checklist , um, our role in getting businesses to jump on board , get certified for five star and convince consumers it's way, okay. To come back into our main street businesses , um, do that, don't keep shopping on Amazon. Right . Um, so that one, I think was a shining moment for all of us. Um, and you know, the others are , um, I'm, I'm particularly proud of two programs , um , the Mesa county leadership program , um, which again, it's celebrating its like 27th , 28th , um , year and actually getting business people to commit to 10 months of really getting to know their community in depth , in preparation for taking on leadership roles and nonprofits and planning commissions and all the rest of it. Um, and then, you know, there's really a soft spot in my heart for the young entrepreneurs academy. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

I just, I just got goosebumps. So I , I think the banquet this year was the best that I've ever attended. It was, I mean, obviously we're all ready to get together again and all ready to party, but it was , um, just filled with a lot of great stories and a lot of inspiration. And uh, the young entrepreneur that was there was really wonderful and I enjoyed , um, um, the business of the year. That's always a great presentation as well.

Speaker 2:

It

Speaker 1:

Is. Um, so who came up with the leadership program? Was that something that you developed ,

Speaker 2:

Um ,

Speaker 1:

That was everybody that I've known that's gone through? It just said it's absolutely incredible. So

Speaker 2:

I came up with the concept and it was something I had seen in other chambers. I mean, throughout the years, my, I mean we have the, you know , um, my, my, my kind of mantra was , um, duplicate and replicate. Um, you know, and, or, yeah, so , um, and I had seen it done, so I, I loved the concept, probably the genius in the leadership program really comes from the volunteers. So we knew what areas we wanted to cover in terms of healthcare and education and local government. Um, but we would gather some folks together from within the chamber boards at those time or within those industry sectors. And we've had some of those volunteers that with healthcare in particular, I can think, I think Dan Princeton has been a part of the planning for that day for probably at least 20 years. So, and the way it works is we have two industry experts and they plan the day. Um, and then we get feedback and, you know, we, we continually prove it, but having the people with the knowledge willing to give back is what makes our leadership program, I think really successful

Speaker 1:

Because the , how many organizations and, and volunteers do you think are involved with that program at any one time?

Speaker 2:

Oh, at any one time, let's see, we have at least 20 kind of day moderator folks. And then they usually typically will bring in somewhere between four and six additional industry experts. So at any one type , probably a hundred people at least. Um , and it does range from every way from the mayor of grand junction to the county board chair , um, down to frontline workers in our healthcare facilities and our schools.

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, so your , uh, career at the chamber has not been without a little bit of conflict, but , uh , you, you have , um, really weathered it well. And , uh , I know it couldn't have been easy. Um, talk a little bit about , um, why you think there's a , a political element to the chamber here that there maybe not in other areas , um, and , and why that creates some conflict.

Speaker 2:

Sure. You bet. Yes. There's, there's, I've grown a very thick skin over the last <laugh> 30 plus years. I think, you know, people in their minds have different definitions of what's political and what's advocacy. And I think they sometimes confuse that. Um, from our perspective, it has always been about what's a , in the best interests of business and we've continually, even today, when we sit down with new members, it's like we don't advocate a position that lines up with the RS or lines up with the DS. We, you know, advocate for the bees , the businesses. And we try to focus on that. Um, and it's easier when you're further away from home <affirmative> . So I don't get a lot of pushback when we take physicians on bills in the legislature. Mm-hmm <affirmative> where I tend to get pushback is when we do engage in some of the local elections. And that was a conscious effort again, made by the board , um, several years ago, in terms of we're, we're trying to be the business voice we're trying to be heard, but that point in time, the policy makers weren't willing to listen, cuz they didn't have the business background. Um, and there was the thought process of we've gotta have people who understand business in office and that's where some of the endorsement processes come in. And I know that's been , um, very heated and it goes back and forth. And it's also something that, you know, as I kind of look back on it, it , it felt like it was really, really necessary when we did it back in 2013 or whenever that was. Um, and there was other , uh, particularly in the west, other chambers who were doing the same thing mm-hmm <affirmative> um, and then there was kind of a movement, a away from doing endorsements. It is, I mean, you've gotta have, you know, your you've gotta have your Bulletproof vest on when you do that. Um, and yet now we take a look at, for instance, even some of the extremisms we're seeing on both sides and it's like, again, with the focus on business and the need for people to understand what actions they're taking, how their actions will affect businesses and the job creators. Um, you've gotta have people that have that understanding. And so that's kind of, if you've got your, your goal in mind and your focus and it is responsive to your mission, I think there are ways you can go about doing that. And again, I also think that at a lot of times , um, you know, some of the, the folks that are most upset with what we do, don't understand the process we go through, which is a very, very comprehensive process. Um,

Speaker 1:

So there is a governmental affairs committee and they meet monthly.

Speaker 2:

Um, the governmental affairs committee is actually meeting about every two weeks during , during the governmental affairs. And it's our largest committee. We have a hundred people on that committee. Um , and then when we get into the endorsement piece, which is what gets us the most , um , interest, shall we say , um, there's actually a separate committee separate from the board. Um, that actually goes through the process of vetting the candidates and making recommendations. And, you know, the board has been in a position where they've endorsed no candidate , um, as they did in the third CD a couple of years ago, cuz they didn't feel like either one of them were going to be a good voice for business , um, to the point where they say, you know what, both of these people would be awesome in office. So we'll endorse both of them , but those aren't the ones that get attention in the media.

Speaker 1:

<laugh> right. Um, if you were going to meet with a new business right now that was coming to grand junction , um, how do you approach them and tell them the value of the chamber right now? What , what's the , what's the elevator pitch for the grand junction chamber?

Speaker 2:

So our elevator pitch is that , um, we we're, we , we look to be a partner , um, and we did away with the term, for instance, dues a long time ago, it's an investment and you should expect a return on your investment. So our pitch to them is if you're looking to actually, you know , um , be recognized in the community , um, if you're looking to connect with other business people, if you're looking to have a voice , um, in the, in the community and community issues , um, if you're interested in, in working on things like workforce housing and workforce development , um, these are the things that we offer. Um, and they're a bit more intangible, but in the end of the day, they can affect your success or a non success as a business, much more than , um , a cash register ringing. So we've kind of, deemphasize the we're gonna bring you customers. Um , and that, and that has taken a , we can't guarantee you that you're gonna get customers right .

Speaker 1:

But was , I mean, it used to be, I grew up in a small town and, and grand junction. I think you can still consider a small town, right ? Small than one I grew up in. But you know, if there was a sticker on the window, you had a bit of pride in that, but there wasn't a lot going on besides that, I mean a , a meeting once a month and a sticker on your window and you hope that that brought people in , but that's not enough anymore.

Speaker 2:

No, it definitely isn't. Um, and so we really do emphasize the fact that, that we are working to build a strong business climate so that your business and your neighboring business at the end of the day can be successful. So we're gonna work on those elements. We're gonna work on , um, you know, again , uh , helping , uh , workforce is I keep bringing that up because the shortage of labor and skilled labor is a big deal, probably our top issue for many of our employers, but we're gonna work on that. Um , and we're gonna focus on that for you. Um , and we're gonna actually develop ways that you can be involved in that , um , apprenticeships and job shadows and those sorts of things. Um, and we are gonna be loud and will be loud , um, down at city hall when they decide to, you know, raise all the development fees and not necessarily take into consideration how that might impact some of our other goals in , in the community, in terms of housing, et cetera . So we , we will be your voice , um, and we will work on the issues that will make you successful as well as other businesses in the community.

Speaker 1:

When you mentioned earlier that one of the challenges is, is the turnover in the board. Um, um , it's gotta be a little bit nerve-wracking to think , uh , for a lot of the people on the board and in the leadership in the chamber about you leaving, because you've been such a consistent voice there. Um, tell us about the , uh , process for hiring your replacement.

Speaker 2:

Sure. You bet. Yes. Ivan is still holding it against me. <laugh> um , our chairman is even here. Um , but you know, we, we put in place and again, the, the , the leadership caliber in this community is amazing even with the turnover. So this was five years ago, so nobody who developed our succession plan at that point in time, they just looked at me and said, we need a succession plan. Maybe if you get hit with a bus, whatever might happen. Um , and so five years ago we put together a succession plan that said, here's, what's gonna happen , um, with the CEO. Um, and, and we have everything from , um, how to the job description is in there. The various industry outlets where you might wanna advertise, we even, and have potential interview questions in there. Um, and so the board , um, has Ivan gear . Our chairman has selected a , a search committee it's about seven of the board members. Um, and one of the recommendations in that plan was to look at a search firm. Um, I know it can be expensive, but at the same time, they're all volunteers, you're a volunteer. Um, and we wanted a process that will move smoothly. And frankly from my personal selfish perspective quickly <laugh> um , so they are in the process of, they have actually put together an RFP and sent it out to some search firms. I think they're hoping to have responses and able to make some sort of a decision , um, potentially yet in April early may, and then they'll engage the search firm to go out and actually , um, help them identify and filter candidates to bring them into , um, for interviews and zoos and that your normal hiring process mm-hmm <affirmative> . Um, but I I'm, I'm very impressed. I've tried to stay very hands off and they've been very good about doing that, but , um, I did hear some of the elements in the RFP that they put together, which was amazing in terms of here's who we are as an organization. And here's what we need in a leader. And here's what we're looking for a search firm to help us do. They were very clear in all of that. Um, so we'll go from there. My anticipation is, is that there will be candidates from outside the community , um, and inside the community. And we probably have a candidate internal candidate as well. Um, and so they will move through that process and make a decision. Um, and I'm guessing somewhere around mid-July , um, I've told 'em , I'm on a Viking river cruise starting July 20th, and I'd like to not come back, right .

Speaker 3:

You might come back <laugh>

Speaker 2:

But I also know that's a pretty aggressive timeframe. And so I'm have allowed myself to be somewhat flexible, cuz for me, I mean, having been invested in this organization for so many decades, I wanna see it move through this transition seamlessly. Um, and, and I'm pretty convinced it can do that.

Speaker 1:

And what's next for you?

Speaker 2:

I have no clue.

Speaker 3:

<laugh>

Speaker 1:

A little downtime,

Speaker 2:

Definitely downtime <laugh> I was having a conversation just the other night with someone who was like, well, you could do this and you could do this and you know, why don't you do that? And I'm like time out . Um , so for at least probably three to six months, I have promised my very patient husband who retired four years ago. I'm just going to decompress. We're gonna go play. We're gonna go play in the desert. Good. We're gonna do vacation

Speaker 1:

Because I can't imagine in the last 33 years, you've had very many weeks where you worked , uh , Monday through Friday eight to five.

Speaker 2:

No ,

Speaker 3:

<laugh>

Speaker 2:

Nope . Not at all. So

Speaker 1:

Lot , lot of traveling , uh , lot of meetings after hours weekends.

Speaker 2:

So yes, no. I mean, I added it up once one time and I've had more than I've been at more than 300 business after hours events. I've already told the staff, I'm never, never doing another business after

Speaker 1:

Hours. No, maybe you're gonna open up a new business in town, Diane , and we'll see you there pushing the new entrepreneurial bit . Yeah . Who ,

Speaker 2:

Who knows. But, and then after that, I'll kind of take a look at, you know, what would be a good fit for me. I'm not done , um, in the community. I, this is such a wonderful place and what makes it so wonderful is the fact that people are willing to step forward and volunteer for good causes and do good things. And so I'm sure I'll find a niche out there somewhere where I can, where I can help. And I wanna do that, but don't bother me for six months.

Speaker 3:

<laugh> got it. <laugh>

Speaker 1:

Well, we really appreciate you taking the time today. I know you've got a lot on your plate because everybody wants to talk to you right now, even more than ever, but , um, is there anything else you'd like to share about your journey and, and , uh, what, what an experience been?

Speaker 2:

So, I mean, again, and there are people around who remember me saying this , um, when I first started , uh , they were worried because again, they'd had three directors in five years and I said , well, I will give you five to seven years. I'll make that commitment. But after that, I'm gonna be gone. I'm gonna move to a larger community. You know, I'm gonna advance in my career. Um, and they, they kind of come back and remind me of that. Now that we're at 33 years, but this community has been, I mean, first of all, the U curse is real. And so, but it , it , it has grown so much in the time that I've been here. I didn't need to move to see more challenges, more opportunities. Um, and as we look toward the future, you know, I can honestly say as the kind of old woman in the room, I think that grand junction future is so bright. Um , and it's been built on the efforts of those who came before us. Um, and I can't wait to see what this place looks like in five or 10 years,

Speaker 1:

It's changing quickly. I mean, I've been here 20 years and I just think about this whole riverfront area and the vehicles that you used to look at, came into town from orchard Mason , how that's changed in 20 years and the next 20 years is gonna be incredible.

Speaker 2:

It is absolutely. And again, I think, you know, the , uh , the one thing you can't always control is you can put in the infrastructure, you can do some things, but if you don't have leaders with vision communities, you know, we will struggle. Um, and I think we are so blessed and I've had the opportunity to work with so many leaders with vision mm-hmm

Speaker 1:

<affirmative>. Well, again, thank you for your time today. Thank you for your commitment to the grand junction , uh , chamber of commerce and to the business owners here in town. And we wish you the best of luck in your retirement. Well,

Speaker 2:

Thanks, Christy . And thanks for being one of those community leaders.

Speaker 1:

Thank you. Um, our , thanks to Diane , uh , president and CEO of the grand junction chamber of commerce, and we will see you next time on the full circle podcast. Thanks for listening and watching. Bye. Thanks for listening. This is Christie Reese signing out from the full circle of podcast.