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TAKING THE REINS: Greg Williams now is leading the chamber of commerce in the city of Ozark.
SBJ photo by McKenzie Robinson
TAKING THE REINS: Greg Williams now is leading the chamber of commerce in the city of Ozark.

Ozark chamber names new leader

Greg Williams brings over 20 years of economic development experience

Posted online

A two-month search for a new leader of the Ozark Area Chamber of Commerce ended when longtime Springfieldian Greg Williams was tabbed as the organization’s president and CEO.

Williams has nearly two decades of experience working with chambers of commerce, including a previous economic development position at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. He started his new job May 3.

“It was just something I saw as attractive and something I really pursued quite aggressively,” he said.

Adam Kreher, Ozark Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors president, said Williams was chosen out of 35 applicants. He was one of six interviewed for the job by a 10-member selection committee comprising representatives from the chamber, Ozark School District, and Christian County and city of Ozark government officials.

“Greg was very composed, and he gave that professionalism that I felt like the chamber needs,” Kreher said, noting the title was changed from executive director prior to posting the job opening. “In order to try and capture the more sophisticated, next-level candidates, we decided to change the position titling to president and CEO.”

Williams succeeds Anna Evans, who exited in March as the chamber’s executive director to become vice president of business retention and expansion at economic development organization Show Me Christian County.

Kreher credited Audrey Pauls, the chamber’s marketing and event manager, for keeping the organization running smoothly as interim director since Evans’ exit.

Building goals
Williams takes over a chamber with 375 members, which ranked it sixth on Springfield Business Journal’s 2021 list of the area’s largest chambers of commerce. Ozark chamber membership has been sliding in recent years, according to SBJ research.

It finished 2019 with 390 members and had 465 at the start of 2018.

With just a handful of days on the job, Williams said he doesn’t have a clear understanding of the contributing factors to the membership decrease.

However, he’s determined to reverse the trend.

“We have our challenges. I have a membership goal in mind, and it doesn’t start with a 4,” he said, declining to specify his number. “We need to first prove our value and prove our relevance to not just current but prospective members in the region. I’m confident once we do that our membership rolls will be enhanced.”

The Ozark chamber’s primary role is to serve as the voice of the business community, Williams said.

“That can be at the local level and certainly at the state level when relevant state legislation that could impact or affect our members is before the General Assembly,” he said. “We need to have a voice in support. Advocacy is going to be a huge piece.”

His immediate plan is to engage in detailed observation and assessment of the organization in the coming weeks, as well as analyze opportunities for growth or improvement.

“I told my board recently I will make those recommendations programmatically and operationally sometime in late summer or very early fall as we look toward the next calendar year,” he said. “No good organizational leader begins making aggressive recommendations for change or additions or revisions to an operating plan the first week. I’m not going to get caught up in that.”

Kreher said a board goal for Williams is to reevaluate the chamber’s budget. The chamber – like many not-for-profit organizations last year – had to cancel numerous events amid the coronavirus pandemic, he said. Chamber officials declined to disclose budget figures.

“We’ve still got healthy funds and great past leadership that has us in a healthy position. But we want to fine tune, reanalyze what’s in place in case there’s other hardships in the future,” Kreher said.

Chamber experience
Williams spent 15 years at the Springfield chamber, leaving his senior vice president of economic development role in 2010 to become director of research parks for the University of Missouri System.

He remained based in Springfield for that job but began working in Kansas two years later after being hired as president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County.

“It was an opportunity for me to serve in a No. 1 seat for the first time in my chamber career,” he said, noting he commuted twice a week for two years to Lawrence – roughly a three-hour drive from Springfield.

His wife at the time, Jennifer Dalton, was unable to find a job in Lawrence, and Williams said being apart from his family five days a week was ultimately too much.

“A chamber executive really needs to be living in the community where they serve,” he said. “At the time, we had triplets who were babies. So, I went home to be a full-time dad.”

The combined chamber experiences of Lawrence and Springfield will be beneficial in Ozark, Williams said.

“Building a business plan and operating a program of work on an annual basis and keeping your eye on the ball relative to operations and programs is something that both Springfield and Lawrence prepared me tremendously for the opportunity here in Ozark,” he said.

Williams was most recently in a business development role with Focal Pointe Outdoor Solutions Inc., a St. Louis-based landscape design firm that entered the Springfield market last year. He said his work with Focal Pointe was extremely limited due to the pandemic, which led him to amicably leave the company after nine months in October 2020.

Both Williams and Kreher spoke of the growth Ozark has experienced in the past decade. The county seat’s population reached 20,482 in 2019, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

That’s an increase of roughly 15% since the 2010 census.

“There’s tremendous opportunity here,” Williams said.

“The potential for growth, both business as well as residential, is something I know city leaders and chamber leaders are very open to.”

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