The Richmond Chamber of Commerce hired its first full-time executive in 1890.

R.A. Dunlap held the position — it was called secretary back then — for more than a decade.

The organization has employed a number of executives to run the chamber and its staff during the past 150 years.

J. Malcolm Bridges served as executive manager the longest — for 32 years, from 1936 to 1968.

The title of the top executive changed in the 1970s, first to executive vice president and then to president and CEO.

James W. Dunn, who served as the group’s president and CEO from 1990 to 2008, and Kim Scheeler, who has held that position since August 2008, were asked to respond to questions about their tenures, about how the chamber has performed in the past and what challenges ChamberRVA faces in the future.

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James W. Dunn served as president and CEO from 1990 to 2008. He had been vice president of advocacy and community affairs for Bon Secours Richmond Health System from 2008 until March, when he retired.

Q: What was the driving issue(s) during your tenure?

A: “A major concern when I arrived in Richmond in 1990 was the region’s ability to successfully compete against competitor markets, regions like Charlotte and Raleigh, for economic development projects. The feeling was Richmond was badly lagging its competitors and losing out on significant job creation and economic impact decisions. The ultimate fix was creation of the Greater Richmond Partnership in 1994, a joint public-private sector initiative which quickly produced significant results for the region.”

Q: How has the chamber performed during the past 50 years?

A: “The value of an organization like a chamber can best be measured by what it achieves over an extended period of time versus the short term. Reason being is that many worthwhile initiatives such as major transportation projects can often take years from the initial planning process through completion. In recent years, a new terminal facility and expanded service at Richmond International Airport would be a prime example. That was a top priority for the business community which offered significant support to the Capital Region Airport Commission over a sustained period of time to realize the results being enjoyed by the community today. I believe the chamber’s performance the past 50 years has been consistent in engaging business around important issues and forging cooperation on behalf of achieving the desired results.”

Q: Where do you see the chamber going into the next 50 years? What challenges does it face?

A: “No region can afford to be complacent in today’s competitive world. Thus it is imperative that organizations like chambers of commerce be at the table to drive proactive agendas and challenge the status quo to keep their regions focused on issues and initiatives, which when successful, will enhance their competitive position and improve livability for all. I believe ChamberRVA must continuously challenge and engage the region around strategies which foster cooperation and provide the necessary resources and leadership to be effective.”

Q: What was the most important idea or strategy that came out of the chamber during the past 50 years?

A: “I do believe one significant strategy was the 1991-92 Focus on Our Future visioning initiative led by the chamber. Some of the significant results coming from that visiting strategy included: 1) transportation goals which helped launch efforts to improve the airport/air service and finalize completion of state Route 288; 2) economic development which resulted in creation of the highly effective Greater Richmond Partnership; 3) VCU’s effort in developing the downtown Virginia Biotechnology Research Park and establishing an undergraduate engineering program at the university; and 4) creation of several programs and services designed to assist and grow small businesses in the region.”

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Kim Scheeler, who has been president and CEO since August 2008 after serving seven years as president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce:

Q: What was the driving issue(s) during your tenure?

A: “We’ve had a number of driving issues since I’ve been here, but the main one has been the evolution of the chamber into a truly regional business organization. Moving toward a focus on driving big regional issues like talent attraction and development, infrastructure improvements, building an entrepreneurial ecosystem, creating the environment for business to be successful and our community to grow has been important. We’ve also gotten much more focused on developing leadership skills with our future leaders through programs like HYPE, Mentor Richmond, Leadership Lab and Governing 804 to give our future leaders a better toolkit to work with.”

Q: How has the chamber performed during the past 50 years?

A: “We’ve morphed over time as our region has grown and the needs of our members have changed. We’ve become more diverse as our community has become more diverse.”

Q: Where do you see the chamber going into the next 50 years? What challenges does it face?

A: “As our community grows and our needs change, the chamber will have to change with it. In order to continue to drive a thriving region, you have to have the discipline to stay focused on the issues at hand and the vision to look out into the future and anticipate the opportunities and challenges that haven’t come into view yet. We need to be working today on the workforce for 2025-30 and building the transportation system that will enable us to efficiently move people and goods 20 years from now. At the same time, we need to be helping the entrepreneur grow their business today.”

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