WESTMARC CEO Change – When WESTMARC entered its 21st year this past January, an announcement was made that few members expected. Jack Lunsford, WESTMARC CEO for the past seven years, announced he would be stepping down for health reasons.
In addition to leading WESTMARC in its goals for 2011, the incoming chair, Candace Wiest, suddenly had a daunting task ahead of her — finding Lunsford’s replacement.
“Losing someone like Jack is always very difficult,” Wiest says. “He’s been a known commodity for a number of years and has accomplished a lot in the West Valley, and so you kind of look around and go, ‘Wow, what are we going to do now, especially when it’s so unexpected like this.’ ”
Wiest and her team didn’t have to look far for an interim CEO. John Bradley, who had served on WESTMARC’s board for a number of years, stepped up to the plate and has helped guide the organization as it continues its efforts in advocacy and public policy for the West Valley, all the while searching a permanent leader. Wiest says they have narrowed that list down to six candidates and hope to make an announcement soon.
“As you can imagine, people get very nervous in a dues-paying organization when you lose your CEO,” Wiest says. “John stepped into that role literally the day Jack left and he has helped grow membership and really stabilized the organization. He’s just done a great job.”
WESTMARC is committed to several key issues that impact the 15 communities it represents, including education, economic development, transportation, tourism, health care, Luke Air Force Base, and quality of life.
One aspect of WESTMARC that makes it unique, Wiest adds, is its 250 employer members that represent 70,000 jobs. This cross spectrum of industries involved in WESTMARC makes the group qualified, she says, to understand and respond appropriately to economic development in the West Valley.
“Every single focus is on economic development and a responsible method of public policy,” Wiest says. She explains that the organization will be identifying and focusing its efforts on four projects each year that affect economic development in the West Valley. One such project it will work on this year is the recent impact fees legislation. The law will cause Arizona cities to give up some of their powers in assessing fees on new developments.
“The fact of the matter is that cities that are built out, like Tempe and Scottsdale, will not be as impacted as West Valley cities that haven’t yet matured,” she says. “It’s going to really change the way we can be developed and our desirability, so (the West Valley) is going to be the most impacted.”
One of the challenges Wiest says the organization has encountered in recent years, especially in the down economy, is retaining its membership numbers. She says WESTMARC not only has met that challenge, but has surpassed it with a growth in membership this year. The key to overcoming this challenge, she says, is ensuring the membership is reaping rewarding benefits.
She points to a health care forum held in May as one of the most recent benefits for members.
Christine Clouse and Sharon Grambow, co-chairs of the health care committee for WESTMARC, recommended holding the forum. Health care’s status as one of the leading economic drivers in the state also was a key factor in planning the event. The forum benefited not only health care industry members, Wiest says, but also other industry members who may have been overwhelmed by recent legislation.
Wiest says the health care forum most likely will be among this year’s greatest achievements for the organization, as will be the continued success of the Greater Maricopa Foreign Trade Zone, which she explains will be a great economic development tool for the region for many years to come.
WESTMARC also was among the first organizations to issue a statement in support of keeping the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes hockey team in Glendale, which Wiest explains was a valuable move for its membership. She adds that the possibility of the team leaving the state would have had a negative impact on regional economic development.
“I think what we do is very unique,” Wiest says. “Our mission is really driven by the needs of our members.”