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Jul
18
2024
Economy

In addition to his previous work with the Chamber, Phillip O'Rourke is the marketing manager for Emporium Wines and Underdog Cafe, president of YS Pride, a member of and frequent soloist with the World House Choir and the host of “The PHILLIP Show” on YS Community Access Channel 5. (Submitted photo

Phillip O’Rourke named Chamber of Commerce executive director

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The YS Chamber of Commerce announced this week that it has hired local resident Phillip O’Rourke to serve as its executive director, beginning July 1. O’Rourke takes the helm from Alex Price, who was elected as the Chamber’s board chair earlier this year and, for the last several months, also served as interim executive director.

O’Rourke, who has been a member of the Chamber’s marketing committee, was selected from a pool of 12 candidates who submitted their interest within a 30-day application period. The Chamber’s board narrowed that list to three applicants, who were interviewed June 12 at the Bryan Center in a public forum open to all Chamber members to engage with the candidates.

Though, according to a press release from the Chamber, all three finalists were strong contenders for the position, O’Rourke “emerged as the leading candidate due to his impressive background in nonprofits, his strategic consulting expertise and his innovative marketing acumen.”

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“[O’Rourke’s] unique skill set and deep connection to our community will undoubtedly bring tremendous value to our board and our business members,” Board Chair Price said in the press release.

The News spoke this week with O’Rourke, who said the executive director position feels like a “natural fit.” O’Rourke has had a long career in marketing strategy, and as a 1995 YS High School graduate raised in and around the village, is well-known around town as a man of many talents.

In addition to his previous work with the Chamber, he’s the marketing manager for Emporium Wines and Underdog Cafe, president of YS Pride, a member of and frequent soloist with the World House Choir and the host of “The PHILLIP Show” on YS Community Access Channel 5, which celebrated its third anniversary earlier this year.

“[The executive director position] requires a lot of skills that I already use daily, and it also encompasses a lot of relationships that I’ve built within the village,” he said. “It’s a really cool transition to be able to do what I do on a more community scale.”

With a nod to the many hats he already wears in the village, O’Rourke said he intends to work on establishing a balance between his new role and his previous community commitments. Those commitments also encompass clients of his work as an independent brand and marketing strategist, which in the past, have included the Village of Yellow Springs and Clifton Crafthouse Co-Op.

“I’m not abandoning anyone, but I want to be really clear on what the priorities for all of my clients are, whether it’s with or without me,” he said.

As executive director for the Chamber, O’Rourke said he aims to act as a connection point between member businesses and local organizations and government bodies to maximize resources for sponsorships, development and fundraising. He envisions the Chamber’s relationship to the wider community as a “partnership,” he said, that will enable Yellow Springs’ business district to “put its best foot forward so people know exactly who we are.”

O’Rourke noted that the Chamber has not had an official executive director since 2021; that July, the Chamber hired Xenia resident Elizabeth Ford to fill the position. In contrast to the public forum process the Chamber used to make its final decision to hire O’Rourke this month, Ford’s hiring in 2021 was undertaken by a portion of the board’s then-executive committee without the input of the board at large or any member businesses.

At the time, the members of the executive committee who hired Ford said the decision to exclude the full board membership was made to expedite the process in order to mitigate the financial struggles wrought by the pandemic. Ultimately, Ford was terminated from the position after 13 days following the discovery of racist and transphobic posts on her public Facebook page.

In the aftermath of Ford’s hiring and firing, several local businesses expressed a lack of trust in the Chamber’s then-leadership, with some canceling their membership and others forming a parallel organization, the Downtown Business Alliance.

O’Rourke acknowledged the rocky ground the Chamber has navigated over the last few years, working to rebuild relationships, transparency and its own infrastructure. In fall 2022, a new board reinstated the twice-yearly Street Fair event after a three-year hiatus, and took the helm of the annual blooming of the sunflowers on U.S. 68, as well as the annual Fourth of July parade and fireworks.

“The Chamber has been through some changes — that’s very clear,” O’Rourke said. “However, I think the Chamber has been consistent in its pursuit of continuing to remain a resource for the business district.”

To that end, the Chamber’s board has taken an active role in creating programming for its 196 members, including monthly “Lunch Local” events aimed at connecting members to one another and quarterly educational workshops focused on business strategies.

“One of the positive opportunities before me is maintaining consistency and making sure businesses and the community know everything the Chamber has to offer,” O’Rourke said. “Sometimes it takes a while to build that back. I think the Chamber has done an awesome job, and now it’s my job to build on that.”

He added: “To be able to use my skills in the town that is my home and make an impact — I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity.”

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