Filling big shoes is never an easy thing to do, especially when the shoes belong to Ed Stolmaker. After 15 years as president and CEO of the Marana Chamber of Commerce, Stolmaker is retiring and Audra Winters is stepping in.
Winters hails from Farmington, a rural city in northwestern New Mexico similar in size to Marana. She ran the Farmington Chamber of Commerce for six years, dealing with a variety of business-related issues facing the community.
She helped advocate for Farmington companies retain their skilled workforce. Their coal-based industry had businesses closing or leaving town, so Winters helped owners and employees navigate that difficult time.
“My position in Farmington at their chamber really helped get me going for this job,” she said. “We were a smaller chamber in a rural area, I had less staff so here it’s nice to have more staff and to be in a bigger town and have that challenge that I’ve been working towards.”
The first month of her new job has been jam-packed. Winters said she’s been out and about visiting with board members, chamber members and business leaders to learn what Marana is all about.
“The town here is very business-focused and the City of Farmington is also business-focused so that’s been a great help,” she said. “The differences are obviously we’re more spread out, so there’s different sections, you have the Dove Mountain area, then you have Continental Ranch and Gladden Farms so it’s more spread out so I think it’s harder to have that sense of community sometimes.”
Winters sees the relationships built within the chamber as the best thing about it. From the chamber’s members and volunteers, to the local school district and town council, to the county officials and the university, creating strong relationships with these key stakeholders is a priority to her.
The other most important thing is advocacy. Winters said it’s the chamber’s job to advocate for business owners and do whatever is necessary to address their needs and make sure they are fulfilled.
“You’re kind of like that middle person that keeps the peace,” she said. “So sometimes you might be pulling one direction for the town, but then maybe another direction from the business owners so you really have to listen to the business owners more and get the town to meet in the middle with you, too.”
So far, she’s observed that the Marana business community is focused on retaining a strong workforce and growing the small businesses that already exist. Winters said she wants to make sure that even if they had a great year last year, that those success stories will continue and they will retain a steady stream of customers, all while keeping up with the latest technology for their work.
“Ed, who was the previous president, had really left the chamber in good shape, so I want to build on that.” she said. “We’ve always teetered on that number of like 586 [members], I’d really like to get it up to 600 by the end of the year to have a good strong membership base to move forward.”
For Stolmaker, the organization will continue to succeed as long as it continues to grow and advocate for the business community. He’s confident Winters will run the chamber successfully.
Mayor Ed Honea, who calls Stolmaker his “brother,” speaks highly of the chamber and what the organization has done for Marana.
“The chamber has had a major impact on the town, and we have always worked well together,” he said. “The town’s revenue source is really sales tax. We don’t have a property tax, so working hand in hand to bring businesses to our community and expand them here has been a big win for both of us.”
Looking forward, Honea anticipates a lot of things will change in certain industries and the town’s businesses will have to adapt.
“Retail is changing because of [the internet] and the Wayfairs and the Amazons of the world, so a lot of brick and mortar stores are not going away completely but there’s not as many because there’s just too many opportunities—I’m guilty as anybody—to go on Amazon Prime and buy something you can’t find and it sits on your porch in two days,” he said.
On the up side, Honea said other industries are seeing positive outcomes. Sargent has doubled in size over the last five or six years, the town just opened a 104-room Hampton Inn on Twin Peaks Road, and the mayor recently met with the president of Cummings Plummings, who he said is the largest plumbing contractor in Pima County. The company plans to move its administrative offices to Marana.
Honea believes a lot of these developments were possible because of Stolmaker and the chamber’s work to make the town more appealing. Winters plans on carrying forward that legacy.
“One of my number one goals is to make sure that people do feel comfortable here, welcomed, that they do have a place that cares about themselves as a whole and then also their business,” Winters said.