Editors note: This is part of an ongoing series of conversations with city and county officials, beginning in Carter County before branching out into greater Southern Oklahoma. This week features Ardmore Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mita Bates and Vice President of Operations Tyler Young.
Q: How have you seen the chamber evolve over the years?
Bates: “When I started in 2003 the chamber was very focused on events, activities and things like that. Now we have really narrowed our focus to concentrate on those items that truly benefit our members. And, on those things that impact our community in their ability to attract and retain talent, such as community development activities and education activities. While we still do events, we have found that our membership really cares about about those things we can do in the community to impact it as a whole.”
Young: “And, on those events, we have changed them and refined them to make sure members are getting the most benefit out of the events.”
Q: Have any of the goals of the Chamber, Ardmore Development Authority, and Ardmore Tourism Authority changed over the years, or is it just the tactics that have changed?
Bates: “I think that what you will see with regard to all organizations is a more deliberate focus on the community and its assets. And one of the things is... having the organization that we have, those things overlap. For instance, what is workforce? Is it Chamber? Absolutely. Is it Development Authority? Absolutely. Is it tourism? Absolutely. Because if we don’t have a good workforce, people aren’t going to have a good experience. So you will see much more deliberate activities and plans as they relate to that. Same thing with community development. If we can’t attract and retain talent then we can’t be successful, so we have to have a common vision for community. Right now, between all those organizations, the interplay between them makes it a lot easier. I think the labor study we are getting ready to do through the Development Authority will provide us with excellent information and data that will help us maximize the assets we have and to come up with strategies moving forward. It will be the foundation for coming up with a strategic plan.”
Young: “Right, until we know where we are at, it’s hard to know how best to proceed forward.”
Q: What do each of you think has been your toughest challenge in your role at all of these organizations?
Young: “I’ll go first. It was really my first initial challenge and it was something that I was really happy to do and excited about. Basically, straight off the bat from being hired to do marketing for the convention center, the board at that time had asked me to look into this branding project which has now come to fruition. But from a starting standpoint, it’s pretty daunting. The board says lets look into this, and then it’s my responsibility to go out and find perspective agencies to do the work and then provide them with the necessary information for them to make a good decision. Which is monumental, because unless you start correctly there is no telling how the project is going to turn out. Just working throughout that process, arranging meetings and providing information again to the board, and once we did choose an agency to do the work, then doing the same thing there as well. But like I said, in the end it just ended up being so incredibly fulfilling and I was so glad to be able to help though that process. But yes, the branding project was my biggest challenge for sure.
Bates: “I would say across all organizations and throughout time it has been the transition through the boards. Each year your boards will change and the evolution of boards and board makeup can have a tremendous impact on how quickly you move forward. The boards are all made up of great people, but each change brings different personalities. You will have people who are very driven, who want to make a decision and get with it. You will have people who are more analytical so it’s like, ‘lets think about this and evaluate it.’ So from year to year you have the challenge of trying to determine what the personality of your board members are, and how to be an effective leader based on those characteristics. And it always works out. We always have great success, but it can be very, very different depending on the personalities.”
Q: What do you think is the greatest need in Ardmore, that all of these organizations address?
Young: “I think it goes back to education and workforce. No matter the discussion or challenge, every issue can somehow trace back to those.”
Bates: “Five years ago, when you were talking site selection it was about site ready land and what incentives you could bring to the table as a community or even a state. Today, and in the last three economic development conferences I’ve been to, it has been about workforce and talent before any of those other things. So if I’m trying to bring in a facility that will employ 250 people, the first question they will ask us is can you provide 250 skilled employees, and if the answer is no they will never come. The traditional metrics on relocating businesses have totally changed. So it’s talent attraction which means workforce. You’ve got education, skills, and community. What is it going to take to keep those workers in our community? So both of those things are really important.”
Q: If you could describe Ardmore in three words what would they be?
Bates: “All of mine are four, but one word is a preposition so it doesn’t count. Great place to live.”
Young: “Every bit of this could be so cheesy, but it’s just my home. It’s my home.”
Q: What has been your proudest accomplishment or achievement in working for all of these organizations?
Bates: “I actually think it’s going to be more than one, kind of, but they’re along the same line. The recognition of our different entities. Last year we we’re named Chamber of the Year, and when I see the recognition of the organizations... we were runner up four years ago and chamber of the year for the nation. Those kinds of things. Economic development has been recognized, and tourism has received awards. I like it when we are recognized by our peer organizations. Also, the convention center is my baby. It was the first project I did when I came to work. So the convention center will always be up there. I’m watching it grow, it’s a teenager now.”
Young: “Mine is the implementation of branding. I really credit the board and committee for going through the process. I facilitated it, but I’m really proud of the way we implemented it, and the success we have seen across all the different channels. Really and truly, it’s so hard to know how something like that will go, but I’m really proud of our staff in how they have implemented it and made the best of it.”
Bates: “The reason we are successful is because our organizations work together. I can tell you that in the 13 years that I have been here this is the best team across all organizations that I have been able to experience. I feel blessed about it.”