By Jane M. Pascall
Come August 15, Homer Chamber of Commerce board member Jim Lavrakas will be switching roles as he moves from giving direction to the executive director, to becoming the executive director – and working for a board he once served on. It may be the first time the board has hired one of its own.
Current executive director, Monte Davis, announced in March that he would be resigning after two years as he and wife JoAnn are moving to Fort Worth, Texas to be near her sister and other family members. Davis said 16 applicants, mostly from Alaska, applied for the open position. Six of those applicants were from Homer. The chamber search committee weighted each of the applicants according to their marketing, managerial and accounting skills, he said, and the numbers just added up for Lavrakas.
“He did extremely well in the interview process,” said Davis. “Certainly his experience on the board, his knowledge of where the chamber stands, and what we face — both good and bad — helped unquestionably.”
Davis said Lavrakas’ demeanor “set him apart.”
“Personally, I’m very excited,” he said. “It’s going to be such a smooth, easy transition. He’s going to be different from me, yet very effective, I believe.”
According to Davis, Lavrakas will be training, “on his own time,” in the next several months, when he’s not operating his charter business. This will allow him to become familiar with a couple of projects he will be responsible for and hit the deck running.
Lavrakas, 60, is a retired photographer for the Anchorage Daily News. He and his wife Ruth moved to Homer three years ago. Lavrakas said his curious mind is one of the assets he’ll bring to the position.
“I made it a point at the Daily News to get to know a core group of people in each and every department around the building,” he explained. “The business aspect, pressman, circulation, advertising; they were all people I learned from. I bring that knowledge to the chamber position now.”
Lavrakas said his expertise in marketing is another asset he learned at the Daily News.
“It’s not that we promoted stuff, but I saw how other people who came to the paper told their story to promote their business,” he said. “After 30 years, that stuff sinks in and becomes a skill.”
Since leaving the Daily News, Lavrakas has written and promoted his own book, started a photography business and operated a fishing charter. He said all have been successful, with the exception of a few frustrations in the charter business. That, however, is an experience he learned from as well. After fulfilling his summer contracts, he plans to close the charter business, citing a “conflict of interest” with the chamber position.
Lavrakas said he will be staying the course on programs instituted by Davis, such as the Homer Shopping Derby and Homer Bucks, as well as looking for new revenue streams.
A new idea, currently in the brewing stages at the chamber, he said, will be announced in the fall. In the meantime, he is taking on the challenge of bringing the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon back to its former glory. That includes being in contact with Harbor Master Bryan Hawkins.
“We’ve talked about what’s going on down there and what needs to be done,” Lavrakas said. “We’re looking at what kind of improvements need to be completed, as well as the ongoing maintenance needed from here on out. We don’t ever want to get into that situation where the fishing hole is a dead zone again.”
Although the fishing hole ultimately doesn’t directly impact the chamber’s bottom line, Lavrakas said it will certainly benefit everyone through increased revenue for Homer and Homer businesses as the Lagoon attracts visitors from around the state.
“Families look for a destination that provides a recreational opportunity in a beautiful setting, along with the other services Homer can provide,” he said.
Lavrakas also plans to further Davis’ campaign to make the chamber inclusive in the full range of businesses that exist in Homer.
“There is a perception that the chamber is only concerned about, or only works for, the tourism side of business; things like bed and breakfasts, charters, etc. That’s not the case,” he said. “I plan to make the case to the full range of businesses here in Homer. We want them to know that we are their chamber, too.”
Lavrakas acknowledges that he is stepping into a big job, but is willing to put in a “big effort” to personally visit businesses and increase good will and cooperation between all the businesses.
“I think it will only make Homer healthier,” he said.
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