“These Are the ‘Good Old Days'”: Chamber CEO Jim Page Reflects on 10 Years of Service
Jim Page, President and CEO of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, recently reflected on his ten years serving in his role. He reflected on some of the Chamber's biggest successes and struggles, and how Tuscaloosa will grow in the future.
"It's been a real blessing to serve in this role for the past ten years," Page said in an interview with Townsquare Media Broadcast News Director Don Hartley. "Our community's been through a lot in the last few years. The Chamber's been right in the middle of a lot of that. I've had a front row seat for so much of that change and positive progress in our community."
Page joked that he's never known anyone whose dream was to work for a chamber of commerce one day, that everyone in the business stumbles into it.
He got his start working in politics in Montgomery, but he admitted he didn't feel fulfilled in that role. Roughly 20 years ago, Page got a call from a friend regarding a job opening at a Chamber of Commerce in Decatur, Alabama.
"I was in it for a few days literally, and I went home and told my college sweetheart - now wife - I think I found what I'm supposed to be doing," Page said. "I'm lucky to have been doing this for the past 20 years, ten in West Alabama."
Page spoke to the longterm impact a chamber can have in its community. He also said that a lot of the community impacted might not understand what a chamber of commerce does day to day, and he said that was okay.
"There can be and usually is some turnover with your elected officials, but your business community through your local chamber does provide some longer term sustainable vision and bigger goals that benefit the community... The issues we focus on don't have a partisan tilt to them. We're trying to make the economy better and find people jobs," he said. "As I reflect on ten years, I can't help but to feel a great sense of pride in what our organization's been able to do and the part we've played in making our community a better place to work, place, visit - you name it."
Page mentioned that the West Alabama Chamber's work extends beyond bettering just the private sector, but also the community that comprises the public sector. He said one of the biggest examples he seen of the Chamber's impact was the recent handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the area.
He commended the chamber's critical role in workforce development, exhibited in the statewide-recognized model they built for a workforce development system.
"Never was it probably more evident to folks locally than in the height of the pandemic when there was so much employment. Our team worked overtime to stabilize our local employment base, find new opportunities for the unemployed and underemployed."
Page cited the Chamber's response after the April 27, 2011 tornado as the factor that allowed Tuscaloosa to brace for COVID-19 as well as it did.
Although he didn't start in his current role before the tornado, Page was there to see much of the recovery effort firsthand. He said that so many in Tuscaloosa have an "emergency response mentality," with a community that's used to banding together and being proactive in disasters "when there is no playbook."
Page said that after the past two years, he's realized how COVID has impacted every facet of what the Chamber does.
"I think it's changed us probably forever that we never know what's going to be around the next corner, and we need to be prepared for whatever it is," he said. "We are a community convener, used to address problems that can't fall under one community...We've never been more relevant, and I think chambers are going to play an even bigger role in making our communities even stronger."
Page commented on the Chamber's recent accolades in the wake of COVID-19, including the organization winning the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives' 2021 Chamber of the Year Award.
The annual award recognizes some of the most impactful chambers in the country, with 1,600 in the running.
"It's incredible to ever win that Chamber of the Year award, but to win it based on the work done in 2020 during the global pandemic, one of the worst years I've experience in my career, that makes that award even more special," Page said. "I'm proud of our community. It really proves that we punch above our weight class in a lot of different ways."
Page never wants to take the opportunities he's been given for granted. He mentioned that the University of Alabama's reputation under Bama Head Football Coach Nick Saban's run has brought countless new buildings, businesses and hotels to the area. He holds a lot of optimism for the future of Tuscaloosa
"Tuscaloosa, West Alabama really has been able to benefit from a global brand that the University of Alabama has brought in. From a Chamber's perspective, it really doesn't get better than that," Page said. "These are the 'good old days,' it hasn't always been like this... But we don't need to take for granted al the accolades our community has received."
Page also promised that he doesn't have any plans to leave West Alabama anytime soon, and he expects a lot of exciting developments for the area in the future.
"I've had a lot of time recently to reflect... It has truly been a blessing on me and my family to be here right now," Page said." All my boxes are checked, I have no idea what the future holds... But I can't think of a better Chamber job than the one I've got right now."