Chamber names new CEO and president

Gary Plummer is coming to the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce with a strong track record of growing membership, building coalitions and fundraising.

But that's only part of the reason chamber officials Thursday announced Plummer, 53, as the organization's next president and CEO.

"He met all the boilerplate criteria," said Walter Berry, chairman of the search committee and president of Berry Cos.

Moreover, Berry said, Plummer is a quiet leader with strong listening skills and the ability to pull groups together for a common cause.

Plummer will start Sept. 14, when he will join Visioneering Wichita on its three-day city-to-city visit of Pittsburgh, Pa.

He has been the president and CEO of the Greater Springfield (Ill.) Chamber of Commerce since 2005.

Plummer replaces Bryan Derreberry, who resigned in March to become president and CEO of the Charleston, S.C., Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Veteran chamber staff officer Suzie Ahlstrand has been serving as interim CEO. Chamber officials said Ahlstrand will continue to serve in another interim role, as CEO of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

Lynn Nichols, chamber chairman and president of Yingling Aviation, said that before the chamber began its search for a new CEO, it looked at where it wanted to be and where it hoped the area would be in five years. Based on that, Nichols said, the search committee developed a profile for a CEO.

"I think all roads lead to what we are supposed to be doing, and that's economic prosperity," Nichols said. "I think all in all, Gary will be a good fit."

Plummer has worked for chambers and in economic development for more than 30 years, including stops in Modesto, Calif; Waterloo, Iowa; and Jefferson City and Springfield, Mo.

At his current post, he has increased chamber membership by 20 percent and led the formation of a private-public economic development group called Quantum Growth Partnership, similar to the GWEDC. Plummer also led the creation of chamber affiliates such as a young professionals networking group, a foundation and a workforce development initiative.

He said the Wichita chamber is a bigger organization than Springfield in terms of staff and budget, although both have about the same number of members.

Springfield lacks the scale of manufacturing that Wichita has, although Springfield has a "pretty solid base of small and medium-sized manufacturers," he said. Its biggest industries are government and health care.

Plummer said Wichita's downtown development efforts are "very exciting and hold a lot of promise."

He sees workforce development as a critical part of the area's growth as well as the chamber assisting companies in growing their business.

Plummer, who was born in Missouri and grew up in Iowa, said he learned of the Wichita job through a friend. The friend also submitted his name to Organization Dynamics of Branford, Conn., the search firm the chamber hired to find a new CEO.

"The Wichita chamber has had a great reputation in the last quarter of a century since I've been in this business," Plummer said. "It had the kind of reputation that attracted me to the position."

Plummer said he has two grown children living in Oklahoma and California, and two boys in 7th and 9th grade who will be coming to Wichita, along with his wife, Dana.

He has a bachelor's degree in political science and journalism from Northwest Missouri State University.