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Jodi Owczarski, CEO of the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce. Jodi Owczarski, CEO of the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce. Courtesy Photo

Q&A: West Coast Chamber embraces change amid leadership transition

BY Danneisha McDole Sunday, September 25, 2022 10:04pm

Throughout her career, Jodi Owczarski has learned to wear many different hats. She’s worked in human resources at a large manufacturing company, run a nonprofit organization, launched her own business and worked in operations for a global consulting firm. Now, Owczarski can add one more title: CEO of the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce, an organization where she’s worked since 2017. Owczarski took over running the West Coast Chamber following the retirement of longtime leader and mentor Jane Clark, who was with the organization in various capacities for 32 years. Owczarski recently spoke with MiBiz about embarking on her new role and how she plans to help the West Coast Chamber and the local business community succeed. 

 

You’re stepping into some large shoes given Jane Clark’s tenure at the organization. How does that shape your leadership strategy? 

Not only was Jane highly regarded in this community, but she also reached near legend status in the chamber industry across the country. To be able to learn alongside her was absolutely a gift. From the very beginning, Jane has been so gracious and generous with access and support. Even before there was any intention of succession planning, she invited me to the table and she included me in important conversations and opportunities. I’ve had that experience with her over the last five years and that just makes this transition so much easier, and it challenges me to be that same kind of a leader for my own team as we go into the future. It’s not all about me, it’s about us as an organization and having success together. 

 

What are your initial goals that you want to accomplish for the West Coast Chamber? 

My number one goal to accomplish in this first year is to intentionally connect and provide opportunity to each one of our members to share what their challenges are, what’s working, what’s not working and understand how we can be the most impactful organization that we can be for them and for this community. And then, take that data and have it inform and drive the work that we’re going to do in the next three to five to 10 years as we continue to move forward. 

 

How are you using this leadership transition to the Chamber’s advantage? 

We’re at a crossroads in this organization (because) we’ve changed leadership after 18 years. That’s significant and it certainly causes change within our organization. We needed to pause and take a moment to reevaluate who we are as an organization and how we can make the greatest impact. At the same time, we recognize that our member organizations are going through probably just as much change as we are.

 

Is the West Coast Chamber looking at new methods for serving the greater Holland business community?

One of my first objectives as CEO is to pause and intentionally take time to meet with leaders from a wide variety of member organizations to better understand their priorities and the challenges they are currently facing. The information that I gather through this process will inform what we do and how we serve our members going forward. The West Coast Chamber is uniquely positioned to serve as a catalyst for business growth and development, a convener of leaders and influencers and a champion for a thriving community. That purpose will not change, but how we do that will likely evolve as we work to address the changing needs of our business community. 

 

As issues like housing have become such a pinch point for employers’ ability to attract new employees, what challenges on the horizon might cause a similar shift in the years ahead? 

There are three things that seem consistently a part of the challenge that I’m hearing, and it relates to workforce development. One is housing, second is child care and third is transportation. The Chamber’s role is we’re at the table with the leaders of this community, collaborating on solutions. I serve on the board for Housing Next, which is an organization that’s been around for five years now working to address the lack of housing in our community. We’ve made good progress, but it is far from done, and so we’re continuing to evolve what that looks like and how we can continue to meet those needs here in this community, and even in the broader region. 

 

— Interview conducted and condensed by Danneisha McDole. Courtesy Photo

Read 1528 times Last modified on Monday, 26 September 2022 12:36
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