Originally created 09/16/97

Chamber looks for president



Seven applicants have survived early rounds in the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce's search for a new president.

A chamber official refused to say whether any of the candidates are from Augusta. However, two whose names have been mentioned as possible candidates - Charles A. DeVaney and Keith Benson - say they have not applied for the job.

After interviews by video-conference over the next two weeks, a seven-member search committee will recommend three finalists to the chamber board to fill a post that has been vacant since Al Hodge left in April.

Sixty people from across the country originally applied to the committee, according to its chairman, Warren Daniel. The strong interest in the position proves that a search firm wasn't needed since Augusta has a national reputation, he said.

The committee sent a detailed application to 25 of the candidates and asked their permission to check their background and credit. None were eliminated because of the investigations, but a few missed the cut because they wanted more money than the chamber plans to pay, he said. He didn't say how much that would be.

"What we are anticipating is that we will have that seven down to three names two weeks from now," Mr. Daniel said.

Although he refused to say if any of the seven were from the Augusta area, he did say all but one has experience running a nonprofit organization like the chamber.

Two local officials whose names surfaced during the search were noncommittal.

"I am told that my name has surfaced. I have not applied for the position," said Mr. Benson, who is executive director of the United Way of the CSRA. He said he is devoting his energy to the agency's fund-raising campaign.

"I'm very flattered," said Mr. DeVaney, former Augusta mayor and current director of Augusta Tomorrow. "I haven't been approached, and I haven't approached anybody."

The committee had placed help-wanted ads in national and regional publications. In the ads and questions sent to applicants, the committee targeted people with leadership, management and personal communications skills.

The new president will face several challenges, according to Mr. Daniel, who is a former chairman of the chamber's board. One challenge is competing for factories with neighboring South Carolina, which can offer more generous incentives.

Other challenges include working with CSRA First! and other business organizations with opposing policy positions to the chamber, he said. At the same time the president will have to work cooperatively with officials in Burke and Columbia counties, which contract with the chamber for industrial recruitment.

Juggling the concerns of three counties reportedly played a role in the job being available in the first place. The chamber board apparently asked Mr. Hodge to resign as president after he claimed responsibility for sending mixed signals to one industrial prospect - Titleist, which makes golf balls - about which county to consider.