New leaders and board members for the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce took office last Thursday, when the chamber held its annual breakfast business meeting.

New chairman Gregg Forszt introduced the new board, and new leadership. Tom Thaller is the chairman-elect, with J.R. Johnson the treasurer, Melanie Larson the secretary and Paul Kappelman the past chairman.

New board members are Susan Cantrell of Tucson Newspapers Inc., Lynn Ericksen of the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort, Shawn Strash of Northwest Medical Center Oro Valley, and Mark Miller of the Catalina Community Council.

“It’s been a year of transition,” outgoing board chairman Kappelman told the El Conquistador crowd. During such a time, “it’s important to have strong leadership, and people who are there for you in times of change.”

The chamber “added 60 new members,” even in relatively difficult economic times, Kappelman said.

And it hired a new president and chief executive, Ramon Gaanderse, who is succeeding Jerry Bustamante. Bustamante, now the director of the Chandler chamber, was in attendance Thursday.

Selection of a new president was “a good process, and a way to bring our board together,” Kappelman said.

Kappelman called special attention to the chamber’s scholarship efforts, its Pinnacle Awards luncheon, and its fund-raising golf tournament at the Oro Valley Country Club. “It was an extremely well-run event, with delicious food, and it was sold out,” Kappelman said. “Our events held strong.”

Forszt mentioned the chamber’s Nov. 8 gala, an event that has raised more than $7,000 for local charities.

He said the chamber is developing a new newsletter format, and working to bolster its “partnerships with other business groups.” Kappelman said the chamber is updating its web site “to make it more user friendly,” with features “so you can do things yourselves via the web,” such as pay for events.

The crowd stood and applauded Kappelman for his time of service.

Ericksen, general manager of the El Conquistador, is going to “bring passion to that commitment,” he told the crowd. “Know that. I’m going to shake up this board.”

Ericksen talked about the significant changes occurring at the El Conquistador, with renovated meeting space and casitas, the ongoing conversion of the Last Territory into a special events center, and the installation of 42-inch flat-panel monitors in every guest room.

The El Conquistador employs 630 people, and 700 during the busiest season, More than 150 are residents of Oro Valley, with a “similar number” in Marana and unincorporated Pima County.

“We’re feeling this economy, it’s serious, it’s real and it’s not going to turn around in the next week or two,” Ericksen said.

Ericksen expressed his further belief in the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We can’t do what the bureau is doing” to generate sales and visits. “We get more than our fair share of the leads coming into our community” through the MTCVB, Ericksen said. It comes in “a very cohesive, efficient and inexpensive way.”

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