Thomas J. Kern named Steamboat’s new chamber CEO
July 28, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Thomas J. Kern, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce in Lawrence, Kan., will be the new leader of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. His last day in Lawrence is Sept. 23.
Kern is a longtime visitor to Steamboat Springs who has formed friendships here, Steamboat Chamber board president Jeff Steinke said.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am about Tom,” Steinke said. “He’s a brilliant mind.”
The post had been open since Sandy Evans Hall left her position in March after 25 years with the local chamber. Kern will take on the title of chief executive officer.
Kern has experience in leading a large resort-oriented festival in Michigan and business development-oriented chambers of commerce in large metropolitan areas. In his career he has been both a city manager and a county commissioner.
He was in his job in Lawrence for about three years.
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"Tom has been a strong and visionary leader for the Chamber," Lawrence Chamber of Commerce board chairwoman Cindy Yulich said in a news release. "His focus on growing business in Lawrence and his efforts to build consensus in the community form a foundation for our future success. We are sorry to see Tom leave and greatly appreciate the commitment he has shown to Lawrence for the past three years."
Before he took the post in Lawrence, he was the chief operating office for the chamber in Fairfax County, Va., a community of about 1.2 million people just southwest of Washington, D.C. Prior to that, he was executive vice president and COO of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber.
In the first half of this decade he served as both the president of the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, Mich., and a Grand Traverse county commissioner.
During a video interview with the Lawrence Journal-World in September 2008, while interviewing for the chamber post there, he said he had been thinking of seeking returning to a role as COO of a nonprofit in a mid-sized community in the Midwest.
"I've learned that that in order to move forward, it's about relationship building," Kern told the Lawrence Journal-World in 2008. "Chambers don't do anything by themselves — they do it in partnership with the city of Lawrence, Douglas County, with the university. What I do best is working with people and bringing people together to create a common vision, and to move forward on that vision. That's what I like to do."
He said that in Cincinnati he helped create a new national identity for the city as the "20-minute city."
He added that he had played a role there in business retention and in helping existing companies expand their workforces. Kern said he learned a great deal about the process of recruiting new businesses while in Cincinnati and helped to attract national companies like Sara Lee and a surgical division of Johnson and Johnson.
Lawrence is a city of about 100,000 located 41 miles west of Kansas City. It is home to a highly-educated work force due in part to the presence of the University of Kansas, with more than 28,000 students. Lawrence also is home to large medical facilities.
Almost 12,000 members of the 2010 workforce of 47,780 in Lawrence were employed in educational services. Unemployment in Lawrence in April was 5.5 percent compared to about 11 percent in Steamboat Springs.