Written by The Business Journal Staff
Nathan Ahle, President and CEO,
Fresno chamber of commerce
What we do: The Fresno Chamber of Commerce is the leading voice and advocate for the business community. The Chamber promotes economic opportunity, business education and successful business relationships throughout the region.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business management, graduate of Western Association of Chamber Executives Academy and US Chamber of Commerce’s Institute of Organization Management
Family: Wife Aimee, daughter Lucy, 3
How did you first get involved in working for a chamber of commerce, Nathan?
I started my career in the newspaper industry in Ridgecrest, Calif. In my role as a newspaper editor I started to volunteer with the chamber of commerce there. There was an opening for the CEO position in Ridgecrest and I was interested in leaving the newspaper industry, so I applied and was hired. It’s been a fantastic industry to be involved in.
What are your first impressions of Fresno and its business community, Nathan?
I think the key word I would use is “potential.” Everyone has told me, “You came at the right time!” From the exciting things happening in our downtown to the burgeoning tech industry to a general increased buzz around the Central Valley, I feel like it’s a great time to come to Fresno. The board, volunteers, staff and members I’ve met with have been very positive and spoken very highly about the Chamber and its role in our community.
What are the most important issues facing the Fresno Chamber today, Nathan?
Our chamber continually works to promote or combat legislation that negatively impacts the Fresno business community. We’re constantly monitoring what goes on at City Hall, the Board of Supervisors, and in Sacramento. Our chamber has taken positions on more legislation this year already than in all of 2015, and we remain engaged and active on issues such as minimum wage, overtime for farm workers, and other bills that effect businesses and their employees.
Has chamber membership been increasing, decreasing or remaining relatively flat? And what is driving this trend?
We’re seeing a slight uptick in membership, and I think that comes from the increased positivity about the community that I referenced above. We’re working every day to show that chamber membership is an investment that provides a return, and I think that message is starting to resonate.
In announcing your hire, Chamber leaders said you were the right person to “take the chamber to the next level.” How would you define the next level and how do you plan to take the chamber there?
Like any chamber of commerce we have to continually evolve to stay relevant. The days of a business joining a chamber because it’s the right thing to do are largely gone. We’re focusing on broadening and diversifying our organization because we’re the chamber that represents ALL of the Fresno area’s business community. That’s a responsibility we take very seriously. The “next level” means re-imagining and innovating in all of our programs and services to make sure we’re truly meeting the needs of our members and the community as a whole, and working to help all of Fresno grow.
What was the best advice you ever received and who did it come from, Nathan?
The best advice I’ve ever received comes from my dear friend Chip Holloway. Chip is the former mayor of Ridgecrest, the small community in eastern Kern County where I started my career. He told me to “never walk into a meeting thinking you’re the smartest person in the room — you can learn something from everyone.” That’s a lesson in humility that has stuck with me throughout the years, and one that I’ve tried to adhere to.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career?
In this career I would have to say my work with the Western Association of Chamber Executives has been the most influential. This is a professional development group that really gets down to the business of education, and gave me a great deal of training on how to best serve the members and put them first. It’s not my chamber. I’ve been entrusted by the Board of Directors to manage the operations and execute a strategic plan, but the chamber belongs to the members and belongs to Fresno. It’s our responsibility to make sure it’s an organization that benefits Fresno and one that Fresno can be proud of.
What are your roots in the Central Valley?
I’m a native of St. Louis, Missouri, but moved to California as a child. I lived for 26 years in Kern County, but most of my Central Valley connection comes from my wife Aimee, who is a native of Bakersfield and a Fresno State grad. I also served as the Government Affairs Manager at the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce.
What was your very first job and what did you learn from it, Nathan?
When I was 16 I was hired by Boeing as a contractor to inventory old computers, gyroscopes, and electrical equipment on the Navy base at China Lake. They gave a bunch of us kids digital scanners and told us to go scan bar codes in the laboratories. It sounds like grunt work, but for me I got to see the engineers and scientists who work to develop technologies that support our military and keep them safe. It gave me a new and unique appreciation for what they do.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Nathan?
I’m having a wonderful time getting to know Fresno and explore new eateries and activities with my family. I’m a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan, but I’ve discovered the Grizzlies since coming here, so you may see me at Chukchansi Park!