Originally created 09/23/05

Chamber president wants to focus on services



Sue Parr was a golf fan long before she applied for the job to run Augusta's biggest business organization.

Of course, her affinity for the links didn't hurt her chances in a city synonymous with the sport.

"I love golf," said Ms. Parr, who was named president of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. "It's a very big passion in my life."

The 47-year-old Michigan woman will take the helm of the 1,200-member chamber Oct. 24, becoming its first female president and the first president in nearly a decade with chamber management experience.

She succeeds Ed Presnell, a former banker and sales executive, who resigned in July after nearly three years on the job, and Jim West, a career economic developer, who ran the organization from 1998 to 2002.

She was selected by the chamber's executive committee from a pool of 40 nationwide applicants.

"Ms. Parr is a great fit for our community and our chamber," said Stan Shepherd, regional manager for BellSouth and the chamber's chairman-elect. "She is hands down the search committee's No. 1 pick."

In a phone interview from Lansing, Mich., where she is senior vice president and chief operating officer for the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, Ms. Parr said her first priority will be keeping the organization focused on member services.

"What every community needs is for its chamber to view members as customers and provide the highest value possible," she said. "Chambers are evolving. We're not just about membership ranks anymore. We're about returning a value to members every day."

She said she wants to create a "tiered" structure that would make membership affordable to even the smallest businesses.

"We want to be an inclusive chamber, not exclusive," she said.

About 20 percent of the 1,700-member Lansing Regional chamber's budget is devoted to economic development. The 1,200-member Augusta Metro chamber has not had a formal economic development program in nearly two years, when the bulk of industrial recruiting responsibilities were transferred to the Development Authority of Richmond County. Still, there's no way the chamber can avoid economic development.

"The chamber is a partner in economic development," she said. "Obviously, it needs to work with all the economic development agencies."

One of the economic development activities the chamber still oversees is the annual Red Carpet Tour, which brings executives to Augusta during Masters Week. Ms. Parr's organization oversaw a similar golf-related economic event, the LPGA Oldsmobile Classic Tournament, which ran from 1992 to 2000.

General Motors is one of the largest private-sector employers in Lansing, which gives Ms. Parr plenty of experience in working with the automotive industry, which has increasingly been moving south.

The opportunity to move south is one of the reasons Ms. Parr chose to apply for the Augusta position.

"My husband used to live in Atlanta, and he loved it during the time he was there," Ms. Parr said. "There's just something there that just beckoned me."

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

Sue Parr

Age: 47

Birthplace: Harrisburg, Pa.

Education: Studied business administration at Central Michigan University; graduate of U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Organizational Management at Notre Dame

Family: Husband, Bruce Flechter; two stepchildren

History: Ms. Parr's family moved to Michigan during her childhood. She moved to Lansing in the late 1970s and worked in the health care and radio industry before joining the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce in 1990.

Hobbies: Golf, boating

AUGUSTA-LANSING COMPARISON

Augusta-Aiken     Lansing-East Lansing, Mich.






Home of the...

Masters Tournament     Capital of Michigan




Population:

461,000     428,000



Nonwhite population:

37 percent     22 percent



Median household income:

$32,709     $41,173


July 2005 unemployment rate:

6.4 percent     7 percent



Population below poverty line:

17 percent     12 percent



Population without high school diploma:

21 percent     11 percent



Average commute to work time:

22 minutes     20 minutes


Largest employers - Augusta area: Fort Gordon, Savannah River Site, Medical College of Georgia

Largest employers - Lansing area: General Motors, State of Michigan, Michigan State University



Sources: 2000 Census data for Augusta-Aiken and Lansing-East Lansing metropolitan statistical areas; Bureau of Labor Statistics