After less than three years on the job, the executive director of the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce has resigned.
Ramon Gaanderse, 34, turned in a letter of resignation to the board of directors on Wednesday, Feb. 9. His last day with the chamber is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 25. He began his work with the chamber in June 2008.
“My decision was both personal and professional,” Gaanderse said.
He’ll begin a new job in March with the Tucson Utility Contractors Association.
Gaanderse said his time with the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce has been excellent experience.
“I have learned more than I bargained for because I came on in the worst economic times of our lives,” Gaanderse said.
The recession has taken a toll on the local economy and on the chamber, to use the organization’s membership rolls as an example. The chamber’s published lists of members in its annual Map and Guide and Business Directory show membership topped 620 in late 2007. By late 2010, however, membership had fallen to
Gaanderse said any decline in membership was likely the result of business closures more than a flight of members from the organization.
Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Chairman J.R. Johnson said the group doesn’t see the change as a cause for unease.
“I think we’ve been holding steady,” Johnson said. “I’m not alarmed.”
He said the board did not have any concerns with Gaanderse’s performance and did not ask for his resignation.
“As far as his performance goes, the board was happy,” Johnson said.
But Gaanderse’s time with the chamber wasn’t without controversy.
Just a month after taking the job in 2008, Gaanderse was forced to confront an angry Oro Valley Town Council that had threatened to cut off funding to the organization.
Council members were angered that the chamber had endorsed a candidate in the 2008 council election, despite chamber endorsements in previous elections.
The candidate, former Councilman Terry Parish, lost the re-election bid to current member Barry Gillaspie. Other council members who the chamber also did not lend support to, voted to strip the more than $27,000 town contribution to the organization.
Gillaspie commented at the time that the chamber might have used public money for political purposes. He said all the political activities were conducted through a political action committee established to lobby local governments and collect money for candidates.
The chamber has recently
dissolved its political action
Later that year, the organization raised its membership rates eight percent and increased the costs to participate in mixers and breakfasts.
In late 2009, the organization again made waves with the Oro Valley Town Council when members showed up at a meeting to demand a relaxation of local sign and lighting standards.
With the rallying cry of “Dusk till Dawn,” chamber officials and members pushed the council to allow businesses to keep signs illuminated through the night.
At the time, Gaanderse favored the decision, at least publicly. Looking back, he thinks it probably wasn’t the best move the organization could have made to gain the good will of the council and residents of the town.
“We put fuel on the fire,” Gaanderse said. “As a CEO, you can’t always agree with the board of directors.”
The council predictable denied the chamber’s “Dusk till Dawn” request.
Despite the initial setback, Gaanderse said the decision could prove a long-term gain for the local business community.
“I was pushing for an overhaul of the sign code,” Gaanderse said.
Following the public effort, the council decided to initiate a still ongoing process to re-evaluate and reform the town’s sign code. The chamber has been one of the stakeholders at the table during that process.
Gaanderse points to another success during his tenure at the chamber.
Under his leadership the chamber formed a Membership Ambassador Committee, in which officials with the organization paid personal visits to members.
“We actually went out into the community with the committee and visited those businesses,” Gaanderse said. “I thought it was a huge success.”
He said he was looking forward to starting with the Tucson Utility Contractors Association because the organization has a different focus that coincides more with his interest.
“What attracted me the most is that they get a lot more involved in policy,” Gaanderse said.