Interview With Highland Chamber Of Commerce Director Josh Umar Pt.2

In Part One of my conversation with Josh Umar, Executive Director of the Highland County Chamber of Commerce he spoke about progress during his first six months on the job. Now, he looks ahead to future plans.

“What we’re really focused on right now is getting our house in order – that’s really the focus, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do. Because there’s so many good ideas, new things, we could try, new events – but if we’re not operating the way we need to, then the opportunities that come along with those things will be squandered, and we really don’t want that to happen. So, I would say that one of the bigger challenges that I have ahead of me, and it’s something that I’ve been dealing with since I got in and had some successes with, but it’s an ongoing challenge is, I would really like to be more inclusive as a Chamber, and make sure that we’re getting a variety of perspectives at the table, anytime we make decisions. The Chamber’s work impacts the whole community, and I want the whole community need to feel taken care of by the Chamber and represented by the Chamber. So, I’ve spent a lot of time since I got in the office trying to really make sure that the board is reflective, representative of the county in that way. When I got the job, we had a dedicated board, and an experienced board, but one that was a little understaffed, a little undermanned. And so I wanted to recruit some more folks to that, but more than just numbers, what I wanted to focus on was making sure that all of the stakeholders were, represented all of the kinds of businesses that people do to make ends meet here in the county are represented.

“So I’m still working on that. I will tell you that one of the changes that I’m most proud of is actually a little thing. We moved our meeting time to 7:00, and that sounds like just an administrative change. But we did it because we realized that, if we continue to hold our meetings at 5:30, the way we had been, it was virtually impossible for anybody from Headwaters or McDowell, or that side of the county to participate, and we want them to participate. So sometimes those details matter – when you want people to feel welcome, even the little things count. And so I’m very pleased with how that’s turned out, and I think once we are as representative and inclusive and as professional as we want to be as an organization, then I think, you know, you’re going to start seeing probably some bigger, more noticeable changes and more noticeable improvements. That’s where we want to head, is to do things that are to lead in the community, and do things that people can see, and we are going to get there. Right now, what I want is a board that people can see represents their interests, and is overseeing my work. It’s very important to me to have people know and see that the board is overseeing me and communicating with the community, because that’s how we build trust.

“And I think the main message is, you know, we’re working hard and the future’s bright. I think coming out of the next six to 12 months the Chamber is going to be a lot stronger than it has been in a long time and for the future of the Chamber and the work that it does in the community, I think people can take a little bit of solace in some of the improvements we made.”

Speaking of hard work, how’s your first time presiding over Maple Festival planning going Josh?

“ I think running the Maple Festival for the first time, for anyone, is probably like drinking from a fire hose. You know, there’s a lot that goes on but, we’re working hard at it. And what I will tell people is ,things are shaping up nicely – you’ll probably see a very similar festival to what you’ve seen before this year, because again, I’m trying to learn it, see what we’re doing, see how it works, get my own handle on how things are going, and then heading into next year we’ll decide what we want to change and what we want to keep the same and then at that time, you might notice some differences.”

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager 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 previously 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. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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