Business Q & A

5 questions with Tim Witsman

Tim Witsman is a man of many interests: tennis, musical theater, traveling and listening to the symphony.

But what he enjoys most is “making things happen,” be it legislative action or helping businesses make contacts.

“I like solving problems. It’s fun to figure out how to beat them,” said Witsman, president of the Wichita Independent Business Association for the past six years.

An Indiana native, he had a full ride to Brown University in Rhode Island before getting master’s and doctorate degrees from Purdue University. He started out as a professor and then got into managing cities and counties in places like Savannah, Ga., and Chicago before coming to Kansas. He was president of the Wichita Metro Area Chamber of Commerce from 1987 to 2003 and has taught finance and economic development classes at Wichita State University off and on since the 1980s.

In May, Witsman took on an additional role as executive director for the 150-member Nonprofit Chamber of Service, which is now housed with WIBA at 200 E. First St., Suite 101.

Q. 1 Can you talk a little bit about your new role at the Nonprofit Chamber of Service?

A. The struggle a lot of the nonprofits have is you ask one person to do everything, the fundraising, the membership management, all of that stuff. So we proposed to them to let us do the management. I’ll do the overall management, we’ll hire a person to do membership management, and we can do that for less money than you’re paying one person, and we co-locate and that saves money, too. So we really have more people, a place where the door will be open and the phone will be answered. We think we can do more for less money.

Q. 2 What drew you to the position at WIBA about six years ago?

A. I like the representing business and I particularly like the independent part, which means they’re not publicly owned. So a Koch can be a member. A Cargill can be a member. It’s not a size thing, although most are small. …

Early on, after trying some committees and not getting anything done, I said I’d stick with my style of “Stop me before I kill again.” And what I mean by that is I will always tell them what I’m doing, but I’m going to keep going until I stop. That way you have initiative and the people who should have the power can say, “Tim, stop that. I don’t think that’s a good idea.” But it’s a good way to not have to wait to get something done.

Q. 3 What are the demographics of WIBA members and does the diversity present challenges?

A. They tend to be heavily weighted to the very small and then you have the outlier, which would be a Koch, but the bulk of them are probably around five employees. But a lot of times the more involved people, particularly the ones that care about politics, are bigger — around 150 or 200. The smaller ones are more interested in networking and that kind of thing.

Frankly, it’s less challenging than the Chamber, because there you had to watch the large and the small. … We don’t get pressure from large companies here. In some ways that’s easier. We also survey all the time. “Here are some issues; tell us what you think.” Our board does not overrule the membership.

Q. 4 You’re part of a group trying to get a statewide health exchange cooperative off the ground, but there have been issues with federal funding. What’s next?

A. Health care is the number one issue for our members, 4-to-1 over income tax, because it is their biggest cost. So we’ve tried to come up with new ways to deal with that. We’ve partnered with the Central Plains Partnership and created a health care cooperative, and we were going to try to get federal dollars, and we were right there and then they traded it away with fiscal cliff money to NASCAR and Hollywood for tax credit. That stymied us, but we may still go in with another state toward the end of this year or next year, so it’s possible that may still make it. Even though our members oppose the Affordable Care Act, that was our attempt to help them.

Q. 5 What was it like to work on the co-op?

A. That co-op was as good of a group I’ve ever worked with of people knowing their stuff. … It’s really fun. It doesn’t matter how hard it is. It’s fun to be part of stuff like that. And that’s part of the reason I was so disappointed because I was like, “This is a great team. Really good people.” At one point I said, “You all know more about this than I do. Why do you keep me around?” And they said, “Because you keep us moving in the right direction.” We won’t stop.