Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Executive Q&A

Meet Steve Wilkinson, executive director of the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce

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Steering the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce toward a dynamic future is Steve Wilkinson, the executive director, who brings a wealth of experience and a passion for community growth. As a seasoned professional in commercial banking and economic development, Wilkinson took the reins in April 2022, embracing the Chamber's mission to champion our region's economic vitality and quality of life. With a dedication to inclusive partnerships and representing diverse business interests, Wilkinson's leadership is poised to propel the Chamber and the Wenatchee Valley into a thriving era of collaboration and progress.

Recently, we caught up with Wilkinson to learn more about him and his goals for the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Please tell our readers what the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce does.

The Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) is a non-profit membership organization that has served to promote and represent the issues, interests, and needs of our business community since 1903.

The Chamber’s mission is to champion our community’s quality of life and economic vitality through collaborative leadership and sound business advocacy. We strive to unify our community around objectives that will strengthen and grow our local economy, build business diversity, and create a more vibrant and prosperous business climate in our region.

The Chamber also has the pleasure of serving the community by promoting our area as a destination for business, sports, and leisure travel.

How long have you been in this role?

I will celebrate two years in April 2024.

Tell our readers a little bit about yourself.

My professional background is principally commercial banking; however, in 2016, my wife Ronda and I moved to Kansas for five years, where I was asked to lead an economic development organization that served fourteen rural counties in south-central Kansas. This experience was hugely impactful in my life, working with a tremendous team serving the needs of over 100 small rural communities by providing much-needed capital to entrepreneurial and expanding businesses not able to attain traditional bank financing, crucial residential weatherization services to low-income households, and providing state and federal grant writing and administration expertise. I am also very proud of the organization’s success in convening economic development workshops and seminars to strengthen regional partnerships and creating new collaborative relationships between urban communities and rural towns.

Three years ago, Ronda and I were blessed when Ronda was hired by the Chelan PUD, and we moved to Wenatchee. I commuted back and forth from Wenatchee to Wichita for approximately a year; however, I realized the lack of proximity leading a growing organization that was taking on more complex and larger economic development responsibilities was not sustainable, and the organization’s phenomenal employees deserved a leader that was physically immediate and daily visible spearheading the mission of the organization.

What led you to this position?

My professional background has given me endless wonderful experiences working with small business owners, expanding corporations, and innovative startups. These experiences have fostered great admiration for business owners and a deep comprehension of the challenges business owners face and the determination it takes to persevere. I tend to be drawn to those who take professional risks, lead with a positive spirit, and desire to be distinct trailblazers. 

When I was asked to apply for the Chamber Executive Director role, I was quietly overjoyed at the possibility of serving the community. I was humbly confident that my skillset, character, knowledge, and experiences, could be absolutely applied to complement the past successes of the Chamber and enhance the future growth of the Chamber. 

The combination of commercial and financial expertise, endless rewarding relationships with business owners, and my experience working, learning, and being introduced to economic development programs applied across the country inspired me to fulfill a role that ideally demands a leader who seeks constructive, collaborative partnerships and values the legacy of the community, pursues alliance with other leading agencies, organizations, and decision-makers that reflect this broad and diverse business community. 

What are you most looking forward to in your role as executive director of the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce?

I am fortunate that I work in a unique environment where years previously, the community leaders gathered to develop an action plan titled “Our Valley Our Future.” This enduring action plan has laid out a marvelous foundation of partnerships, relationships, and concerted actions that are exceptional and hugely responsible for the ever-expanding higher quality of life in the community.

I enjoy the responsibility of representing the business community’s interests and needs when meeting and conversing with local, state, and federal decision-makers. To share how local and state policies and regulations impact our community's quality of life and economic vitality. The Wenatchee Valley is located in the heart of Washington, and it reflects distinctive qualities, issues, and challenges that require informed, thoughtful, and intentional creative strategies.

The Chamber has a duty to be an influential voice that skillfully represents a business community comprised of owners from all walks of life.

What does a normal day look like as executive director of the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce?

My days are always wide-ranging and require focusing throughout the day on multiple economic and business development topics and issues. My day can encompass working with the team to implement the many Chamber programs and events, ensuring the Chamber is providing great value to its members, and jumping on my computer to correspond swiftly with business members, community organizations, and government organizations about public safety, public policies, and regulations, then running out the door for several hours attending community meetings learning about local and regional infrastructure projects or participating in groups to discuss activities to increase available affordable housing, reduce homelessness, or coordinate business development opportunities.

What is your favorite part about your job and why?

I really enjoy my job, but what I enjoy most by far is meeting our members and learning about their business or organization. There are so many wonderful positive people in this community, and taking the opportunity to introduce myself and learn about a businessperson, community leader, or entrepreneur energizes me. I like listening and learning new ideas, hearing about innovative business strategies, and discovering the adventures that creators are exploring to be at the forefront. These positive and affirmative people are fun and encouraging, making special moments that make me smile and exuberant.

What are some of your goals for the Wenatchee Valley area?

I have several goals that center around our business community located in Wenatchee Valley. The goals include leading a Chamber that fully and wholly reflects the wide range of business industries and sectors in the Wenatchee Valley and that employs thousands of residents located in North Central Washington, a Chamber that provides value to all business sizes, from the startup company and entrepreneur to the local legacy companies that have spread to regional and national markets and offer effective benefits to businesses owners that reflect all walks of life.

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by the success of our business members. I am inspired by business owners who work tirelessly to overcome both micro and macroeconomic factors, the long hours they work, the continuous creativity to compete in the marketplace, and to build upon ideas to attract new customers and clients.  To hire and train new employees, and then retrain, plus develop key employees to take on greater responsibilities. Our community, economy, and quality of life is sustained and enriched by the financial force of our business community. That is inspiring.

What do you like to do with your free time?

I enjoy working outdoors, and right now, my wife and I are developing property for a final home, so the manual labor to create a homestead is very fulfilling and rewarding.

Is there anything else you want our readers to know?

The Wenatchee Valley is a great place to live, work, and play. I treasure the legacy of the region, cherish the many individuals who influence positive change and appreciate the organizations and entities that are building a healthier quality of life for those that reside in our region.  

Quinn Propst: 509-731-3590 or quinn@ward.media.

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