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Highland Chamber Of Commerce Names New Executive Director, Pt 2

In Part Two of my conversation with Josh Umar, new Executive Director of the Highland County Chamber of Commerce, I asked about his initial plans for the position.

“It’s probably a little bit more “Get in the door” and see how things have been operating, and then making some decisions from there. So, one of the things that I’ve been hired to do is make sure that the Chamber has a good strategic plan, and a plan that’s not just on paper – it’s something that’s actionable, there’s some policies and action that go with it.

“More than any specific tasks, one of the things that I’m really looking forward to is the way that we’re going to operate, and the way that we’re going to be in the community. I am really hoping to increase our level of accessibility and our level of responsiveness. I want people to see that we are working for them, and working for the county – that’s incredibly important to me. I want to be out there building those relationships with community members, Chamber members, stakeholders in what we’re trying to do, and sort of provide a sense of a consistent and active engagement with the community. Because, I think, one of the things that I’ve seen here is that the way that you approach people, it’s really important. And if they see that you’re working hard for them and that your heart is in the right place, they’ll put faith in what you’re doing, and try to support you as much as they can. I think people have welcomed me here in Highland, I very much appreciate it, and I think that’s in part because I’ve been a guy who’s door has been open, and I’ve been accessible, and people have always been able to approach me. And so, I’m going to continue that going forward, and just be as diligent as I can, and open enough, and accessible enough, and responsive enough where people can develop some trust in what the Chamber’s doing.”

I also asked how he would approach balancing the Chamber’s dual responsibilities to tourism and to Chamber members.

“My initial feelings towards that are that, ever since I got here, it seems like the Chamber had been going through a lot of changes. And the fundamental identity issue that they were having is balancing this focus on tourism versus sort of, what other Chambers do in a lot of places, which is a much more pure sort of member services model. Where, what they do, is business resource stuff, and advocate for their local businesses, and provide benefits to membership. I suspect that that balancing act is going to continue, and that one of the reasons that I’ve been hired is because I’ve demonstrated a track record of being able to take issues like that, where there’s a lot of different stakeholders and a lot of different interests, and get people working together and talking together, and try to come to solutions that are good for everybody. Even if they’re not perfect, they make progress on what we need to do.

“Tourism business is going to be a huge part of what I do – it’s a huge part of our economy, and that’s important. Not tourism for tourism’s sake, but the kind of tourism that makes the cash register ring when people get here. I think that’s really important to focus on that piece of it just as much as just tourism, as in people visiting the county.

“But there’s a lot of competing interests, and there’s a lot of businesses who don’t see themselves as either benefiting from tourism, or they’re not tourism businesses, and the fact is, I want to hear from them too. I don’t want them to get lost in the shuffle, because as we try to move toward a solution to this balancing act, and finding our identity, I want to hear from all these people, so that when I’m doing these strategic plans, and I’m deciding on our priorities, I can incorporate all that feedback, and all those perspectives.

“So, I’m going to get in the door and evaluate this stuff. I know that’s not a super specific answer, but I think that’s what it takes, is talking to people, balancing what you hear with the benefits of the Chamber members and others, and making sure that you make some good judgement calls. Members are the priority, but I want to be open and be accessible to everybody, so that people can see that we’re working for our members, and in a lot of cases, that also means working for the county.”

Story By

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Scott Smith

Scott is the News Director for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan, and also is a member of the boards of the Highland-Bath Farm Bureau , Highland Chamber of Commerce and Highland Sheep and Wool Association. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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