Robert Henry is on a fast track. But instead of racing those Grand Prix cars he always dreamed of as a boy, he’s trying to keep the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce up to speed as the Valley continues to grow.
As the newly elected chairman of the 750-member organization, there’s plenty to be done during his one-year term.
The 32-year-old businessman is one of the youngest people on the 23-member board. And he has an aggressive plan to make the chamber the leading voice in the Valley - on issues ranging from transportation to growth to local government.
Henry, who grew up in Cheney, has lived in the Valley for eight years. He’s single and has no kids. His extended family still lives in Spokane.
He went to work for United Speciality Advertising, an agency that markets businesses on anything from coffee mugs to pencils to pendants, as a college intern in 1988.
At the time, he hoped to break into the marketing of auto racing; the firm was handling advertising for the Spokane Grand Prix.
Now, almost a decade later, with NASCAR posters still adorning his office walls, he’s a partner, in and vice president of, the downtown advertising agency.
Henry is a go-getter, who still likes to study the facts before moving ahead, said business partner and company president Teri Little.
“It’s sometimes hard to keep up with him. He even walks fast. His walking speed is like his business speed. If I have high heels on, it’s hard to keep up with him,” she said.
With that same speed, Henry wants to keep the Valley chamber moving on an aggressive track.
He lists these as his goals for the next year:
Tackling the growth issue.
This year the chamber formed a transportation task force to study the Valley’s commuting and traffic needs.
“It’s important for businesses to have good transportation,” Henry said.
Adding new members.
Henry is following the footsteps of his predecessors. Last year, chairman Terry Lynch said he wanted to recruit more than 175 members during his term.
Over the past two years, membership has grown by more than 30 percent, interim president Jim Huttenmaier said.
“We have an aggressive goal and vision for this year,” said Huttenmaier, who just stepped up to the plate last month when Ray Murphy resigned as president to spend more time on his private business.
Henry said he wants to target home-based business owners.
Making the Valley chamber a “leading voice.”
Henry said one of his key visions for the chamber is to make it a uniting voice.
This February the chamber formed a governance task force to study options and try to determine what type of government would best serve the Valley’s needs.
This is a way for the chamber to come up with “a thoughtful and deliberate process and make a recommendation on what’s best for the Valley,” Henry said.
The study will not be completed until sometime next year.
The chamber has in the past been reluctant to take a stand on incorporation. But, with the state’s Growth Management Act, intended to restrict urban sprawl, local governance is something the Valley must consider in the future, Henry said.
“With the growth, people have a very clear preference for having urban services delivered,” he said. And, if the present rate of growth continues, some of those services will eventually have to be delivered by an urban government.
The chamber will continue to meet with school officials to discuss work-force training and to reach out to neighborhood groups, he said.
These are exciting times for the Valley, Henry said.
“There are huge opportunities,” he said. “There are new companies coming to the Valley. It’s because we’ve got availability of land and an attractive community for employees to live in.
“When that economic growth happens everyone gets taken along with it.”
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