Back in 2001, When Eldonna Shaw first came to interview for a position with what was then the Valley Chamber of Commerce, she had trouble finding the office. She remembers driving around looking for the address before finally locating it.
“Essentially we were on the second floor of the office building behind the Quality Inn,” Shaw said, smiling at the memory. During the interview she decided to give her potential employer a bit of free advice.
“There were cubicle walls covering everything, it looked a little strange,” Shaw said, adding that she was surprised front desk staff didn’t know as much about the Spokane Valley as she expected.
“I told them that,” she said, and they hired her.
Shaw has just announced that she’s stepping down at the end of July after 13 years as the president and CEO of what has become the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce under her leadership.
“It’s been a great place to work, and I love this community,” Shaw said.
The Spokane Valley has changed a lot during Shaw’s tenure at the chamber. One major event was the Valley’s incorporation in 2003 – Shaw has fond memories of putting together the swearing-in ceremony for the newly elected city council.
“How often do you get to be part of something like that?” she said. The ceremony was held at University High School and Shaw had invited local judges to show up fully robed, as well as countless local dignitaries and politicians.
“It was a rite of passage. No one had ever done that before,” Shaw said.
After the Valley’s incorporation, the chamber often got phone calls from people trying to reach the new city.
“We did our best to connect them, and we took advantage of the free publicity,” Shaw said.
Shaw grew up on a ranch in Plummer, Idaho, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in home economics and business from the University of Idaho.
She said she left the Inland Northwest like many other 1970s graduates in search of work.
Corporate jobs in California kept her busy, until her dad persuaded her to apply for a job close to home with the Moscow Chamber of Commerce in 1993. After a short stint in Sandpoint, she landed back in Spokane in 2001. She’d added a master’s degree from Gonzaga University to her resume by then.
The chamber had close to 1,000 members when the Great Recession hit.
“Most of our members are small businesses, and it’s tough to see them struggle,” Shaw said. “Sometimes they have to pick between paying their chamber dues and the power bill.”
Today, membership is around 650 and the chamber is slowly rebuilding, Shaw said.
She’s not involved in the search for her replacement but is certain there will be lots of qualified applicants.
“It’s a job where you have to hold a lot of details in your head,” Shaw said. “And you have to work hard to have a separate life. You are accessible 24 hours a day.”
Technology has changed a lot during Shaw’s tenure.
Most communication with members is now via email or social media – newsletters on paper are a thing of the past.
“People have a different communication style today. Everything is immediate,” Shaw said.
She had originally planned to leave at the end of the year but decided now would be a better time. The chamber is launching a rebranding campaign soon and Shaw thought it would be better to have the new president in charge of that.
She looks forward to teaching business and leadership classes at Eastern Washington University and to spending more time with the consulting business she runs together with her husband, Larry Davis.
“I’m not going anywhere, and I will remain a member and active in the community,” she said. “Now is just a good time to leave.”