The need for economic development in the Tucson region is profound, yet Mike Varney, the new president and CEO of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said he has some tested strategies to improve commerce activity in the Old Pueblo.
The current economic times have especially affected the small-business community, said Varney, who left a post as president and CEO of the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and a board seat on the Western Association of Chamber Executives. Small businesses want more help from the chamber.
Varney, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin near where he was born in Madison, was unanimously selected by the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce board from a field of 200 applicants to replace the retiring Jack Camper, who held the post since 1978.
The board also unanimously voted to hire Tucsonan Bill Holmes to serve as chief operating officer of the chamber. He formerly served as vice president and community relations manager at Wells Fargo Bank, and has lived in the Tucson area for 35 years.
Holmes also served on the boards of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Sahuaro Girl Scout Council, the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona and with Chicanos por la Causa. He grew up in Yuma and performed with Up With People, which was headquartered in Tucson for years.
Varney said he plans to work closely with Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO) to make Tucson a more business-friendly community and to stimulate more commerce. TREO is a public-private organization that fosters economic development in the valley, especially by urging clean manufacturing and technology companies to move to Tucson.
I am very much of an outreach kind of guy, Varney said. Reaching out to the community allows one to get input from business leaders. He plans to hold events where a good cross section of the community can voice their opinions and suggestions.
Armed with that information and support, business needs can be addressed.
The board made a really good choice in bringing in Varney, an extremely experienced chamber guy, and Bill Holmes, a long-time Tucson guy, said Wendell Long, CEO of Sol Casinos and chairman of the chamber's board. That mix of new blood and a longtime Tucson resident will be a great advantage for the chamber, a membership-based business advocacy and networking organization.
Members are pleased with the pick, Long said. Between them, there is extensive chamber experience, business management skill a plenty and knowledge of the greater Tucson community.
The Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce represents more than 1,700 businesses that employ more than 125,000 area residents. Small businesses make up about 90 percent of the chamber's membership. The organization's mission is to lead all public and private interests in metro Tucson to foster a climate in which businesses can create jobs and operate at a profit.
Long, who also is a member of TREO's prestigious Chairman's Circle, said that the chamber's new powerhouse leadership working with TREO's dynamic presence in the community should lead to positive developments for businesses. And that's good for all.
When business is good, you have a happy place to live, he said.
The pairing has ignited a great deal of interest in the chamber. The message is getting out, Holmes said. We're saying ëWe listened to you, and we brought in a really savvy director and with him a community leader. There has been a tremendous amount of excitement, and it has met with resounding approval of chamber members.
Varney said he is finding that he and Holmes often think alike. Both see an integral role in quality K-12 education, the university, listening to community needs and creating a vibrant and healthy downtown. All are necessary to bring in more jobs and higher pay to Tucson.
Quality education is consistent with a quality workforce, Varney said. That is a major issue.
A good community college program, such as Pima Community College, also is essential to a prosperous and growing community, he added. The appointment late last year of John Pedicone to serve as superintendent of Tucson Unified School District is expected to provide dramatic improvements to that district's K-12 program, Holmes said. But those parents who are not engaged in their children's education will have to come around to being involved.
Parental engagement is paramount as children move through the education program, and we are acutely aware of what happens to those who do not get a good education, Holmes said.
Holmes said he left a comfortable job to work at the chamber because he wants to do more to make a difference in Tucson.
That's something I've strived for, for a long time. Stay tuned. You're gong to see some wonderful things happen. There is a new energy here.