• Homer Chamber of Commerce director gives six months notice to ensure good search for replacement
By Naomi Klouda
Homer Chamber of Commerce Director Monte Davis announced his resignation effective Sept. 1, or sooner if a replacement can be found, in order to move out of state for family reasons.
Davis gave notice on Thursday to the Chamber’s board of directors to begin a job search for his replacement. He and wife Joanne are moving to Fort Worth, Texas to be near her sister and other family.
“I am feeling really torn,” Davis said Friday. “This has nothing to do with a job offer or anything to do with my job here. My wife is feeling an incredibly strong pull to be back with her family in Fort Worth.
Davis assumed the job as head of the chamber June 1, 2011. He had visited the Homer area for the past few decades as the musical duo, Joanne and Monte, with his wife.
“I had been coming here for so long, people were coming up to me, saying ‘glad to have you back,’ though we had never actually lived here.”
By giving notice six months in advance, Davis is hoping for a smooth transition for the chamber and for the board as they put on a search. The past decade has seen four chamber directors after Derotha Ferraro moved into her position as spokesperson for South Peninsula Hospital in 2006. Tina Day replaced her until 2009, when Paul Dauphinais was named director. He left about 18 months later for a position with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
“The chamber is on a good momentum, so we have the time and we will find a candidate who will want to come here and stay, I hope. That was my intention. I had intended to retire from this job, but, you know, life happens,” he said.
Davis is credited for several big innovations in chamber programs.
He and the board conceptualized Homer Bucks, a way to keep prize money local and reward local shopping. The “bucks” spend the same as real tender and racks in prizes for participating in the summer or winter Shopping Derby. This encourages year-round Homer shopping.
He also directed a turn-around in a common perception that the chamber only served those in the visitor industry, without a lot of concern for how the larger economy prospered or struggled.
“When I got here, all I heard was that this chamber really only represented the tourism industry. I found that wasn’t true, but it was the perception,” Davis said. “If it’s the perception, then it might as well be true. I’ve been trying to prove to these businesses otherwise.”
The chamber serves about 500 members, a diverse group from small accounting firms to bed and breakfasts and year-round restaurant operators. Davis sought a broader role for the chamber to take on to encourage economic development overall.
“I helped lobby and get the (natural) gasline. That’s going to have a huge boon for this entire economy,” he said, because it brings down the cost of doing business here. He also advocated on “quality of life” issues such as getting the chipped and dangerous Homer High School running track redone. Supporting the Kevin Bell Hockey Rink also falls in that category.
“I try to take a broad outlook on economic development, and will would try to make sure the new director understands that,” Davis said. “We have no problem attracting people of retirement age, but what we are trying to attract is young families, young business entrepreneurs.”
Davis, and the chamber board, were concerned about revamping the Homer Halibut Derby to discourage – not encourage – taking out the biggest prime halibut breed stocks. Instead of the top prize going to the biggest halibut, it was changed to a system of two tagged fish with huge winnings attached. One is a $50,000 cash prize sponsored by GCI Alaska. The other tagged fish nets a brand new Ford F150 truck, worth $30,000. Last summer, neither of those tagged fish were caught, so they are still out there for this summer’s anglers.
Because of his contacts after 20 years in the Alaska tourist industry, Davis was able to approach GCI to achieve that sponsorship.
“I tried to look up and out and down the road,” Davis said. “People always need to remember change is going to come. We are a leaf on the wind and we can be affected by it or we can affect it. I tried to make this position be an affector.”
Davis also dove straight into local political events. He sat in on most Homer City Council meetings, sometimes to testify on a sign ordinance that he felt was initially anti-business and other times to track budget and capital project items.
“The chamber represents 500 businesses and individuals and it needs to represent them as a voice. I stayed on top of issues and I built relationships with the council. We should be working together, not be adversarial. To do that you have to build relationships,” he said.
It wasn’t always so easy to convince his board that the chamber should be an advocate. A tiff rose early on when the chamber backed sport fishing charters in the halibut allocation matter before the National Marine Fisheries Service. In sticking his neck out, Davis lost a few members and got a lot of unpleasant phone calls and mail.
“I think you have to be a little vocal and you have to make a stand. Sometimes in a community that’s not well received,” he said.
Davis first came to Alaska in 1971 at the age of 18 with his family, to Fairbanks. The Davis Family Band went to work at the Rendezvous Bar at the beginning of the Trans Alaska Pipeline construction. Davis worked a variety of jobs from laying pipe to wrapping insulation on the TAP, then married Joanne in 1976.
As Joanne and Monte, the pair recorded 11 albums and developed a big following that involved traveling to most all places of the state.
“At times, ‘home’ might not be where you live, but my home has always been Alaska and I suspect it always will be,” Davis said.
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