Warkentin leaves Chamber to take job in Arizona

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Any lingering concern Dave Warkentin might have had about leaving his job as Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO was allayed by an encounter with a snowbird on an airplane flight.

Warkentin, who leaves his post of eight years after May 28, hadn't been actively looking for a new job when he was hired to lead the chamber of commerce in Chandler, Ariz. He found the job opening online and decided to throw his name in the hat. After that, the pieces seemed to fall in place for his family's relocation -- including that chance meeting with a stranger on a plane. As fate would have it, the woman who sat next to him on a recent flight has a vacant house in Arizona where he and his family can stay until they find a permanent home.

"The doors just kept opening," Warkentin marveled.

In his new position he will lead a 1,400-member chamber with a budget 60 percent larger than Walla Walla's. He said the organization is active in public policy issues, an area Warkentin has gained experience in since taking the helm of the local business group.

In recent years, the Chamber added a public policy analyst to its staff in an effort to better represent the voice of local business operators.

"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."

Under Warkentin's watch, the local Chamber has also doubled in membership -- from 400 to more than 800 members -- and taken a role in the expansion and utility improvements on Isaacs Avenue, efforts to spare the local veterans hospital from federal closure and protection of jobs at the Washington State Penitentiary.

"Dave's been really great for the organization," said Chamber board President John Tombari, who called Warkentin's departure a "big loss for the Chamber and our community."

He said a search for a successor will take place through local advertisement and through the Chamber's membership in various other chamber associations.

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.

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