New leader of Wichita’s economic efforts comes from Wichita Falls

The Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce has picked a recognized leader in economic development as the next president of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

On Thursday, the chamber announced it had selected Tim Chase, president of the Wichita Falls, Texas, Chamber of Commerce, to head up its job recruitment, retention and marketing operation.

He replaces chamber senior vice president Suzie Ahlstrand, who has been serving as interim president since the departure of Vicki Pratt Gerbino in March 2011.

Chase, who couldn’t be reached immediately on Thursday, said in a statement that he was intrigued by Wichita after a 2009 visit to talk to the GWEDC board. He was recruited to apply by GWEDC’s search consultant.

“I had the opportunity to speak to GWEDC investors at their mid-year reporting meeting in July of 2009,” Chase said in a statement. “At that time the community was struggling through the brutal impacts of the national recession. I was intrigued when I revisited Wichita this month to learn that leadership has truly coalesced around being more competitive and how the Leadership Council is ready to create change and momentum in building wealth throughout the community.”

He will join the GWEDC in time for its annual meeting on Feb. 21.

Chase has been president of the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce and Industry since 2001 and before that served about three years as vice president of economic development for the Wichita Falls chamber.

For 10 years before that, he was president of the Dixon Industrial Development Association in Illinois.

He currently serves on the board of the International Economic Development Council. He has taught at the University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute for more than 20 years and has served on numerous statewide committees in Texas.

Chase faces some high expectations in Wichita, where business leaders have made it clear they want to accelerate the city’s anemic growth rate. Over the past decade the Wichita area grew by about 1 percent a year, or nearly 10 percent between 2000 and 2010. That added about 50,000 people to the four-county population to reach 623,000 people in 2010.

The chamber has backed Gov. Sam Brownback’s push to cut taxes and shrink government. It also recently increased the amount of private funding for the GWEDC and formed a local Leadership Council, consisting of some of the area’s best known business leaders, with the responsibility of identifying key issues holding back Wichita’s growth.

But while Texas is often cited as a model for economic growth, Wichita Falls is the only metro region in that state to see no population increase between 2000 and 2010, according to U.S. census data. It has a metro population of about 151,000.

Chase’s long tenure in his jobs attracted chamber leaders, said Wichita Metro Chamber president Gary Plummer. Since the GWEDC’s official beginning in 2004, it has had three permanent presidents – Dave Wood, Patrick French and Gerbino – as well as fill-in presidents between the permanent hires. The turnover in the GWEDC presidents has been identified as a red flag by site selection consultants in the past, although the GWEDC generally gets good marks for its operations.

“There was quite a bit of turnover in the last decade,” Plummer said. “When you look at that, we think we are getting a person who is quite the opposite. We have an excellent staff, but they have been through several directors, and it’s important to have some stability, someone who can come in and, maybe, mentor them and make the operation even better.”

Plummer said Chase’s long tenure showed his ability to build strong relationships in the communities in which he worked.

“For him to be successful over 26 years says a lot about his staying power and says a lot about his ability to work with community leadership,” Plummer said.

GWEDC is the regional public-private partnership formed by the city of Wichita, Sedgwick County and private business. It is managed by the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and charged with creating and executing the community’s business recruitment, retention and expansion plans and marketing the region.