Chamber passes its torch
courtesy photo, Gregg Forszt, outgoing chairman of the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce, was happy to present an award last week.

New chairman Tom Thaller is "ready, willing and able to take this chamber of commerce to the next level," outgoing Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce chair Gregg Forszt told the group's annual meeting audience last Thursday.

Thaller, Southern Arizona district manager for M&I Bank, said the chamber would perform "a comprehensive survey of our assets," then design a course of action focused on his four key priorities.

First, he wants to "promote the power of the people." Chamber members gain strength with contacts, referrals, introductions and leads.

Second, Thaller wants a "greater commitment to supporting retail sales," while "encouraging government cooperation with retail merchants, and increasing retail industry membership in the chamber.

Third, he wants the chamber to "promote new business-to-business opportunities, provide ongoing education for business, and assist members in dealing with government.

Fourth, the chamber intends to support industry efforts to deal with government issues, with an aim to "promote the perception of industry's value to the local economy.

"We can't afford to be perceived as a back-room organization, where only a handful of members frame the issues and positions," Thaller said. "Some in the community may like to point at us as an elitist organization. We must demonstrate we are not."

"It has been a challenging and transitional year, and a very good year," Forszt said of his chairmanship. "We have done good things, and had a lot of successes."

He mentioned the retention and recruitment of members, and revival of the chamber's membership committee, now merged with its ambassadors group. "We've started to grow our membership again," Forszt said, with Gloria White the new membership director. Cecelia Smith, the chamber's events coordinator, is also new to the fold.

During the year, the chamber picked up its first platinum sponsor, Tucson Newspapers Inc. It is the only chamber in a partnership with the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association. The chamber has redesigned its website. And, in the area of public policy, it worked to influence Oro Valley town government on its budget and sign code decisions.

"We're going to continue those things throughout the years," Forszt said. "We've mobilized the business community. Instead of the vocal minority, it is the vocal majority."

Forszt praised the work of outgoing board member Paul Kappelman, chief executive officer of Northwest Medical Center, who has completed seven years on the board. He also noted the late Jeremy Wisot, a board member who died earlier this year. "He wrote some of the most remarkable meeting minutes you could ever imagine," Forszt said. And, as a lawyer, Wisot "kept us out of trouble."

President and chief executive officer Ramon Gaanderse offered his appreciation to Forszt for his support. "Putting up with 17 board members is no easy task," Gaanderse said.

"It is a complete honor to support this amazing organization," particularly in a time of economic challenge and transition, said Lynn Ericksen, who runs the Tucson Hilton El Conquistador Resort, which hosted last week's breakfast. Ericksen, himself a chamber board member, lauded his colleagues, who face "tough issues. I'm impressed with the group and their willingness to step up to the plate."

University of Arizona men's basketball coach Sean Miller addresses the chamber breakfast on Sept. 24.

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