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Some people take chamber of commerce jobs for the prestige. Others take them as stepping stones for their future.
Earlier this year, John Woods took the job as president and CEO of the Norman Chamber of Commerce for more selfish reasons: his 7-year-old daughter.
“I want her to have an option to live here when she grows up,” Woods says. “If she chooses to go elsewhere, so be it, but I want to make that as hard a decision as possible. That means we have to have job opportunities in the city and quality of life issues in the city that make it an appealing place for her to raise her family.
“I view everything we do as ‘will this make it a city that is attractive for her generation to call this home in the years to come?’” Can’t blame a guy for being honest.It’s one of the things that set Woods apart from the other 49 applicants.
The search process run by the Schnake Turnbo Frank public relations firm not only sought out candidates for the 18-member search committee, but also redefined the job itself.
The executive director title was lost, and the job became a president-and-CEO role.
“The board, our staff and our members are excited for John to lead the chamber,” says Tom Sherman, former chairman of the board. “John brings the policy and leadership experience necessary to help our businesses and city prosper in the years to come.”
Woods started his new gig in March, and says he couldn’t be happier.
“First and foremost, it was my personal love of Norman,” says Woods, a University of Oklahoma graduate, of what drew him to the job. “If you don’t love the community, and look at this as just a job, you won’t bring everything that is necessary. I have a real passion for making sure Norman is successful. It’s to my personal benefit.”
At the heart of his job? Spurring growth. “A lot of things that make headlines in a community is when you have a large groundbreaking or you’re getting a new, large retail facility or corporate headquarters,” he says. “Those things have slowed nationwide based on economic downturn. What we’re seeing is your small businesses — employers with 10 to 25 employees. They’re growing. You start to add those things up, I’ll take those every day of the week.”
Woods says discussions with several retailers have led him to believe relocation announcements may be forthcoming.
He points to The Outlet Shoppes at Oklahoma City project under construction, and says Norman isn’t far behind with its University North Park mall project.
“Outside of that, we have one of the largest available land spaces available for retail development in Oklahoma,” Woods says. “I think Norman will continue to receive attention, and looks for the retail side and some great opportunities for regional corporate locators to take a look at us.”
The inner-workings of government are right in Woods’ wheelhouse. He worked on congressional campaigns for former congressman J.C. Watts, and as a district director for U.S. Rep. Tom Cole.
He’s been a policy adviser for two speakers of the state House of Representatives, focusing on business growth, energy and transportation.
Woods has lived in Cleveland County all his life, growing up in Noble before moving to Norman and graduating from the private Community Christian School.
His days have been filled by meeting with Norman business owners.
“Out of that process and conversations I’ve had with our board and business members, they really want our chamber to be more of an aggressive advocate for their interests from a government relations standpoint, from city hall to the state house,” he says.