The local chamber of commerce hired area businessman Hunter Hall to be its new president, but it’s still searching for a big-time economic development leader.
Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce officials originally said the next president would be an economic development professional capable of attracting the biggest and best companies to Newton County.
However, after examining communities that had the most success in expanding current business and bringing in new business, officials changed course and decided the chamber actually needed two new leaders: a chamber leader and an economic development leader.
Hall, co-founder of Solucion Consulting and former chief operating officer of real estate firm Greyland Development Group, will be the chamber leader. President search committee chair Scott Willis said Hall will focus on growing chamber membership, meeting current members’ needs and managing the chamber staff. The chamber has committees focused on several areas including governmental affairs, small businesses and tourism; Hall will focus on this side of the operation.
Economic Development Game Changer
The second position that will be created will be a purely economic development position, senior vice president.
"Before now, the chamber president split his time between administration and economic development with, frankly, little time for aggressive economic development efforts," chamber chairman Jerry Mays said in a press release.
The senior vice president will focus on this aggressive economic development in combination with Economic Development Director Shannon Davis. Willis said this person will be one of the top state, and even national, officials the chamber has interviewed over the past couple of months.
"The economic development professional will spend 100 percent of their time attracting new business, expanding existing industry and attracting new industry," he said in a phone interview. "All the noise that can sidetrack you throughout the day, that will be eliminated for both positions."
Willis said he believed the chamber has talked to the top five economic development professionals in Georgia and some top national candidates as well. Willis said the chamber expects a hire by the end of the month.
In an effort to help draw a top economic development professional, the Covington City Council and county Board of Commissioners voted to more than double the amount of money they spend annually for chamber services, from $108,000 to $241,000. The idea was to be able to offer a salary around $125,000, with extra bonuses.
While chamber officials did not want to disclose Hall’s salary at this time, Willis said the extra government money and big salary would be applied to the senior vice president, not Hall’s position. Hall’s salary will be paid out of the $432,000 contributed annually by the chamber’s more than 500 members.
The New President
Hall began his term as president Thursday. He will continue to work with the eight clients at his consulting firm but will phase out of that position as those client’s projects are finished. Hall’s firm focuses on business start-ups and businesses in transition.
Willis said Hall was chosen because he was well-known and respected in the local business community. Hall’s name accounted for 90 percent of the submissions for chamber president that came from the local community, Willis said.
"He can unite the chamber staff and membership, the business community and the government agencies that are necessary for it to all operate. He’s someone with excellent leadership abilities. He stood out among all of the other candidates. If you disagree with him, you can be on opposite sides, but when you leave the room, you are still friends. That’s a quality you need in a leader; it’s OK to disagree with him," said Willis, who is friends with Hall.
Hall said he applied for the position because he wanted to shape and influence positively the future of the community.
"I have a family of six, with all of my children in public schools. I’m not going anywhere. I’m really excited in investing in our community," he said in a phone interview. "For me personally, my skill sets, I love leading teams, I’ve always created, built and loved teams, in various non-profit and for-profit ventures. At the chamber I’ll really have that opportunity that I haven’t been able to do with entrepreneurial work."
Before working at Greyland, Hall spent 11 years working for the non-profit group Campus Crusade for Christ, a Christian outreach organization. He graduated from the University of Arkansas with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education.
Hall said as the new president he plans to listen before leading. He hopes to bring a strategic mindset to the job, and focus on putting together effective teams to carry out the chamber’s mission.
"When I think of the chamber, I want to add value to the business community. Whether that’s through a roundtable discussion with CEOs or by helping small business understand social media," Hall said.
One of Hall’s first proposals as president was to form the Chairman’s Committee, which will be comprised of all former chamber chairmen. Hall hopes he can draw on their knowledge and learn from their successes and mistakes.
Former chamber president John Boothby resigned in September, after three and a half years in the position. He said at the time he was looking forward to spending more time with his fiancé and exploring other fields, such as consulting.