Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce CEO to move on

Dave Warkentin will take up a post in a Phoenix suburb after eight years in Walla Walla.

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WALLA WALLA -- Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Dave Warkentin will leave his post at the end of the month for a new job in Arizona.

In an announcement this morning Warkentin said he has been hired to lead the chamber of commerce in Chandler, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb of about 260,000 residents. His move comes after eight years in the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce's top spot.

The Chamber board will begin a search for his successor through local advertisements and through its membership in various chamber associations, said board Chairman John Tombari.

When that process will begin and how it will take place has not yet been determined. Tombari said the board will meet next week to discuss its strategy after learning of Warkentin's resignation Tuesday.

"Dave's been really great for the organization," Tombari said this morning. He said last weekend's Walla Walla Balloon Stampede event is an example of the Chamber's strong leadership.

"It's taken great coordination to pull off these events and to grow the Chamber. We've been very happy with Dave and his leadership. It's a big loss for the Chamber and our community."

In his announcement on the move, Warkentin said he hadn't been actively looking for a new job. But when the opportunity arose in Arizona -- a place he and his wife had talked about living one day -- he decided to apply.

"I'm going to miss everything about Walla Walla," he said. "I'm going to miss the people. I'm going to miss the flavor of the community. I'm going to miss the work here."

His last day will be May 28.

The job in Chandler offers an opportunity to work with a larger chamber of commerce, Warkentin said. With about 1,400 members he said the organization's budget is about 60 percent larger than it is here. The organization is also extremely active in public policy, an area that has been the focus of growth over the years locally, he said.

Under his leadership, the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce has doubled in membership -- from just over 400 members in 2002 to more than 800 members now. Warkentin said about 40 percent of the businesses in the Valley are members of the Chamber. He said that number is huge compared to the industry average of about 25 percent of businesses in other communities.

In addition to the increasing membership, he said he's most proud of the work that's been done in the community with the Chamber's advocacy, including the expansion and utility improvements on Isaacs Avenue, helping to spare the local veterans hospital from federal closure and working to protect jobs at the Washington State Penitentiary.

The Chamber has also started a Junior Achievement program under his leadership and taken a lead role in the formation of the Commercial Air Travel Coalition working to try to protect commercial air service in the community.

Warkentin said the efforts have built the reputation of the local Chamber at the state level. The organization was recently invited as one of nine chambers in Washington to meet with Senate majority leaders in Olympia representing the voice of small business.

"I'm really proud of what we've been able to accomplish here," he said. "We're a key policy influencer at the chamber level. Communities our size don't have chambers like ours."

Warkentin was chosen from a field of 40 candidates for the Chamber's top spot in 2002. He was the successor to Sen. Mike Hewitt, who served in the Chamber's top role until his new position as a leader of the 16th District required his full-time attention.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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