Chamber welcomes new executive director

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Chamber welcomes new  executive directorDuring his second week on the job, Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tim Smith sat down to talk about what he hopes to bring to his new role as an advocate for the local business community.

He, his wife Bree, a schoolteacher, and their two children moved here from Hermosa Beach three years ago, when he accepted a position as pastor of Ridgecrest Church of the Nazarene. “I joke with people I traded one kind of sand for another,” he said.

Although he acknowledged that a chamber director was a bit of a departure from his educational background and experiences in divinity, he added, “Through all of my experiences working in churches and nonprofits, I have seen the value of a community working together.”

Smith said he is focusing on getting better acquainted with his membership and the business community right now. “I definitely want to learn about the functions and the roles the chamber has taken on in the community, but I also want to listen and better understand what our members are looking for from the chamber.”

He said that because his background is in communications, he hopes that will serve him in being able to help gather information from local stakeholders and make it more accessible.

“Bringing a clarity in communication and helping the membership through comprehensive and uncomplicated information is one of my first goals,” he said.

In the last decade, local chamber membership has declined from about 450 to about 200 — a trend that is reflective of what’s happening on the national scale as well.

Jan Bennett, who retired in 2009, has returned on a temporary basis to help Smith establish himself.

“It’s critical that the chamber has the backing — the ear, if you will — of our business community. One of our core values and missions is to represent their interests,” she said.

“If we don’t have an understanding of the challenges they face and how we can help them improve operations, we are certainly not well-informed enough to represent them.”

“One of the main reasons the chamber board decided to hire Tim is because he has the experience in working for a board of directors,” said Bernie Mondragon, who will be installed as the incoming chair next week.

“I personally think he’s a very likable person and can present the Chamber of Commerce very well.”

Mondragon became a member in 2015, and joined the board in 2016.

“Throughout these years I have seen our ups and downs,” he said, which have included operating without an executive director.

“Now that we have Tim I think he’s going to be a great fit and I’m very excited to work with him,” said Mondragon.

“One thing I would like to add is I can’t express how thankful I am for all of Jan’s help. She has been absolutely great … I honestly don’t think we would be where we are if it hadn’t been for all her help and knowledge!”

Short term, Mondragon said he is looking forward to getting Tim trained so that Jan can retire.

“Long-term goal would be to continue working on giving our members the value the chamber offers — helping small businesses start up or continuing in business after difficult times.

“Being a small business owner myself, I can understand the struggles.”

During his time in the community, Tim said he has come to appreciate some of the benefits and challenges of living in a remote area.

“The lack of traffic is something even my kids comment on,” he said.

“It’s also nice being able to go to a local restaurant or business and knowing the people who work there, or seeing people you know,”he said. “I could go months — years — in L.A. and never bump into a friend.”

He said he can understand the frustration of locals wanting more options for shopping, dining and other activities. “I’m not sure how much the chamber can change that, but we want to do our part.”

Pictured: New Chamber Executive Director Tim Smith

Story First Published: 2019-06-07