CEO Ron Harr announces retirement from Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

CEO Ron Harr announces retirement from Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

March 4th, 2014 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Ron Harr

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Chattanooga's primary job development agency is looking to fill its own top job.

Ron Harr, the CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce for the past year and a half, announced Monday that he has decided to take early retirement by the end of June on the advice of his doctor.

Harr, who turns 60 in May, said he was recently diagnosed with extreme hypertension during a routine health examination.

"While this condition is very treatable, my family history suggests potentially serious risk factors," said Harr, whose father died of a stroke at age 39. "As a result, my doctor recommends removing myself from full-time employment as the best chance to extend my life."

Howard Levine, chair of the Chamber board, said Monday he was disappointed to be losing Harr, who he said "did an outstanding job" as head of the 1,806-member business group. But Levine said he plans to appoint a panel this week to begin a search for Harr's replacement.

"We went through a fairly lengthy process a couple of years ago when we selected Ron, but I don't envision a process near that long this time," Levine said. "We hope to soon post this position and I think we've got the capability to expedite this and get someone selected in the next 30 to 60 days."

The Chattanooga Chamber receives nearly $1 million a year in public funds from the city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County government, EPB and the Tennessee Valley Authority for its economic development efforts.

The Chamber 's 4-year, $10.2 million "Can Do" campaign is trying to recruit or develop at least 15,000 jobs in the Chattanooga area by June 2015. The Chamber calculates that it is already more than half way toward that goal, even without the likely expansion of the Volkswagen plant for a sports utility vehicle line.

The next Chamber CEO will need to soon begin a campaign to raise public and private funds for the successor to the current "Can Do" campaign, Harr said.

The Chamber also operates a variety of programs and seminars to help promote area businesses, provide networking opportunities and advocate for business interests locally and in Nashville. The Chamber operates 11 area councils across the Chattanooga region for community initiatives and, under Harr, added the African American Business Development program to aid minority-owned businesses. The Chamber's membership has grown to a record high this year.

Harr said he has "thoroughly enjoyed" his work at the Chamber, but he said he wants to focus on his exercise and health without the stresses of the Chamber job.

Dr. Ondrej Lisy, cardiologist at Chattanooga Heart Institute, said Monday that more than 76 million American adults suffer from hypertension. While diet and exercise can help, heredity also plays a role in what many have called "the silent killer."

"Many people feel fine, don't have any symptoms of health problems, and then suddenly they have a heart attack or stroke," Lisy said.

Lisy recommends persons get regular blood pressure checks and, particularly if they have a family history of strokes or heart attacks, they limit salt and fatty foods, exercise regularly and limit unduly stressful work conditions.

"Unfortunately in our country, hypertension is a growing problem," he said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.