published Thursday, March 29th, 2012

New Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce CEO: Don't lose steam

Ron Harr, new CEO of the Chattanooga Area of Commerce, speaks during the 2010 Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting in this file photo.
Ron Harr, new CEO of the Chattanooga Area of Commerce, speaks during the 2010 Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting in this file photo.
Photo by Dan Henry.

RON HARR

Born: Memphis, grew up in Bristol, Tenn.

Age: 57

Education: McCallie School, University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Personal: Married, two children

Work: 1995-2011, vice president and senior vice president with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee; BellSouth, Buntin Advertising, AT&T, Lavidge and Associates Advertising before that.

Organizations: Board chairman of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chattanooga; UT College of Communication and Information board of visitors

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Newly selected Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce chief Ron Harr said Wednesday he wants to make sure the area's job-growth efforts don't lose momentum.

"We are on a roll," he said. "We don't need to lose this head of steam."

Harr, 57, a former top executive for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, was picked by the Chamber's board to succeed Tom Edd Wilson as the business group's chief executive.

When Wilson announced late last year he was leaving the Chamber, he said he would stay on until early 2013 to help his replacement in the transition. Harr said he expected that plan to continue.

"We're still talking in those terms," he said.

Harr said his compensation package isn't finalized yet, but expected it to be in the range of the current CEO. Wilson's salary is $215,000, according to the Chamber.

The business group received more than 130 applications for the job. The slot was posted on regional, state and national websites as well as on listings for economic development and Chamber executives. A headhunter group was not hired, according to the Chamber.

Wilson said in a statement that the board made "a very good choice."

"I've known Ron for more than 10 years as both a highly effective executive and a dedicated Chamber volunteer," Wilson said about Harr, who was the group's chairman for a year ending in mid-2011.

The economic development arm of the Chamber receives more than $1 million annually in public funds from the city, Hamilton County, TVA and EPB. It's also supported by more than 1,500 business members.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said in a news release that he thinks Harr will do "an excellent job of stewarding the Chattanooga area's comprehensive job creation strategy as an effective public-private partnership."

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Harr will continue the Chamber's track record, which included attracting Volkswagen's assembly plant, Amazon's distribution center and Alstom's new plant.

"Like Tom Edd, who retired from a career in banking to lead the Chamber, Ron combines private sector business experience and deep local connections with an abiding commitment to the community," Coppinger said.

Tom Griscom, chairman of the Chamber's transition committee, termed Harr's selection the culmination of an exhaustive national and local search.

"Ron Harr rose to the top because of the depth and breadth of his experience," said Griscom, a former Chattanooga Times Free Press publisher and Chamber chairman.

Current Chamber chairman Mike St. Charles said Harr has proven experience in a number of critical areas.

He said Harr has led successful efforts to improve diversity both in hiring and contracting.

Harr said he has been involved in Chamber work his entire career.

"Recruiting and job retention is so important to the life of and state of a community," he said.

Harr said he plans to see there's follow-through on commitments made to recent additions such as VW and Amazon.

Also, he said, it's important existing industry is well served, noting that sector is a vital job creator.

Harr added that a replacement for Trevor Hamilton, who was the Chamber's vice president of economic development until late last year, will be named before too long.

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about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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