Originally created 12/19/97

Chamber to name its new president



Eight months after Al Hodge's resignation, the Augusta chamber is getting a new president.

Jim West, a Macon native who is director of the Tri-County Economic Development Corp. based in Cincinnati's Kentucky suburbs, told The Kentucky Post on Thursday that he will be president of the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce. He's been president of the Kentucky development group since its inception in 1987.

The chamber will announce its new president this morning, and even though outgoing chamber Chairman Pat Blanchard wouldn't say Mr. West will be named, Mr. West's Kentucky office said he flew to Augusta on Thursday afternoon.

"He is the right guy at the right time, at the right place," said Warren Daniel, chairman of the chamber's search committee. "He was clearly our No. 1 choice."

Taking over the Augusta chamber will be a sort of homecoming for Mr. West, who began his career in 1972 as director of the Burke County Development Authority. His wife, Connie, is an Augusta native. Their daughter, Kelly, is a sophomore at the University of Georgia.

Mr. West also worked for 14 years at the Columbus, Ga., chamber of commerce, serving as senior vice president for economic development. From there he went to Tri-Ed, as the agency is known, working to attract businesses to the Cincinnati suburbs of northern Kentucky.

At Tri-Ed, Mr. West helped recruit 159 companies and more than 18,000 new jobs to Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties. Among the businesses Tri-Ed recruited are Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Inc., the auto company's American headquarters; Fidelity Investments; and Heinz/Star-Kist Foods.

Mr. West graduated from Mercer University with an economics degree and has been president of the Georgia Economic Developers Association, among his other civic organization memberships.

The president is the chamber's top paid official.

In September, the chamber announced that seven applicants had survived early rounds in the search for a new president.

The chamber conducted interviews by video-conference before a seven-member search committee. Three finalists were chosen from that group. Sixty people from across the country originally applied to the search committee.

Mr. Daniel said in September that the new president will face the challenge of 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.

"We do have a very positive announcement to make tomorrow relative to our status with the Development Authority and the Columbia County chamber," Mr. Blanchard said Thursday.

In October, the annual contract between the chamber and the Development Authority of Richmond County expired without a new agreement. The authority had been considering hiring its own staff rather than using the chamber's staff to promote economic development.

Columbia County's chamber has sought greater independence from the Metro Chamber in recent months.

The lack of a president has been seen as a roadblock in the relationship between the chamber and the two groups.

Tom Kaleta has been acting president since Mr. Hodge resigned in early 1997 after he claimed responsibility for sending mixed signals to one industrial prospect -- Titleist, which makes golf balls -- about which county to consider.

The company had decided to consider a Columbia County site when a Richmond County site was touted.

The Metro Chamber had agreements with economic development groups in Columbia and Burke counties to support them when sites there are chosen for economic development.

Profile

Name: Jim West
Education: Mercer University - ecomonics degree
Current position: Since 1987, director of the Tri-County Economic Development Corp. based in Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati
Previous experiences: Senior vice president for economic development Columbus (Ga.) Chamber of Commerce; director, Burke County (Ga.) Development Authority