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In Touch With Sally Harrison By Mary Larsen

In Touch With Sally Harrison By Mary Larsen

Press Release

Published in the RECOM Roundup-Retired Employees City of Mesa Newsletter

This is the latest in our series of interviews of prominent Mesa leaders, this one conducted by Board member Mary Larsen. Previous interviews, available in past newsletters, have included Mike Hutchinson, Mary Camelli, and Scott Smith among others. 

This month's interview is with Sally Harrison, President and CEO of the Mesa Chamber of  Commerce. As you will read, Sally is extremely active in the Mesa and greater East Valley communities. The Chamber has been a strong partner with the City of Mesa for years and Sally is a vocal cheerleader for the local business community.

Frank Mizner - RECOM President

Sally Harrison moved from Washington State to Mesa, Arizona in July of 2004. She joined the Mesa Chamber of Commerce in 2008 bringing with her a marketing, events, and foundation management background. She has served as the Director of Programs and the VP of Development. Sally has been the Chamber President & CEO since 2012. She is also the President of the Mesa Industry & Defense Council.

Harrison is well-connected in the Mesa community and serves on or previously served the boards of Mesa United Way, EV Boys and Girls Club, US Global Leadership Coalition, Visit Mesa, United Food Bank, Mesa Sister Cities, Pappas Schools Foundation, Mesa MLK Parade and Mesa Community Roundtable. She also serves as an advisory board member with the Economic Development Advisory Board for the City of Mesa. She is a proud member of the Mesa Hohokams, Mesa Rotary Club, Mesa Sister Cities and the East Valley Chambers of Commerce Alliance.

We asked Sally Harrison to tell us a little about the Mesa Chamber, starting with the mission and values and how that translates to Chamber programs.

The mission is simple: The Mesa Chamber of Commerce exists to Improve, Promote and Advocate for businesses in Mesa. In keeping to our mission, we have created several committees for our members to engage in such as the Mesa Industry & Defense Council, the Aging and Healthcare Committee, the Mesa Financial Network, and a partnership with the Mesa Veteran’s Resource Center. Our Core Values are Integrity, Leadership, Advocacy, Innovation, Service and Fun. And I believe we live by every one of those values every day.

What are some of the accomplishments you’ve been a part of with Mesa Chamber that you are most proud of, or had the most fun with (either or both)?

I moved our office to the Downtown Mesa Community College Campus in July of 2017. We now have 5000 square feet allowing us to do a lot more! We partnered with Mesa Community College on a small business co-working space for small businesses just starting out and still enrolled at MCC. It’s been a great partnership. The space has also allowed for a media room where we have recorded over 60 podcasts since 2018.

There are so many proud moments. I would say that assembling the team we have on staff at the Chamber is at the top of the list. Every single member of our team of ten has been handpicked for the dedication to the businesses, people, and the love of Mesa. We have a small, but mighty team that picks up the phone, returns emails and works with members to ensure that their needs are met and they understand how to utilize their membership to benefit their business best.

As for fun – I have fun every day! Work hard, play hard. But we do have some fun events. We started our TV show, Mesa Morning Live, about 10 years ago and have about 8 million minutes viewed on YouTube and Mesa Channel 11. That’s been a lot of work, but very fun and has allowed us to meet and interview some great guests!

Years ago, I had the opportunity to host our evening mixer at Commemorative Air Force Museum. Knowing that we typically get 80-100 attendees and the museum had much bigger space, I got a group of businesses together and held the first Aviation Fascination with Boeing as our title sponsor. Boeing brought an Apache on year one and has continued to bring it every year. 

We have had numerous other aircraft, food vendors, live bands, and lots of businesses showcasing what they do. Now, in our 11th year, we are in a different hangar at Falcon Field and have more aircraft, more attendees and more fun! Our last event garnered 1200 attendees.

What are some of the exciting things on the horizon that you see for the Chamber and the business community in Mesa?

We are hosting bus tours to showcase the growth in Mesa. There is always a new announcement being made about the new businesses coming to our area. We’ve been working with one of those businesses, a data center, and are planning a technology event for 2022. We are also closing in on 1000 members, a goal that we’ve had for a while. Our board has asked, “will we have a party?” The answer to that is a resounding – HECK YEAH! It’s important to celebrate milestones and our team and members have worked hard and supported each other.

It’s time to party!

Please discuss the relationship between the Chamber and the City of Mesa? What are some collaborative projects or policies that represent the Mesa business community?

The Mesa Chamber has never been funded by the City of Mesa. But we are really good partners! Some chambers over the years have received funding from their cities or towns. Mesa has not. Some still do and its more typical if a Chamber is also the tourism arm of the city. Mesa has Visit Mesa handling tourism and things are kept separate.

We probably have the best working relationship with the City that the Chamber has ever had. For the past 13 years I have worked with the mayor’s office to host the State of the City. I remember my first year posting on social media that we hosted 300 attendees at the Hilton. Several years ago, we outgrew that space, moved to the Convention Center and now, we max out that space with 850 of our closest friends. Due to COVID, our 2021 State of the City went virtual (MesaFlix). And I’m proud to say that our previous sponsors still supported us, some at larger amounts and we even added some new sponsors too. 

We do a lot of joint ribbon cuttings to celebrate grand openings, we help to welcome new businesses to our city, we’ve assisted with Mesa K Ready, other initiatives and I personally sit on the Economic Development Advisory Board and a newly formed Education committee. The Chamber is here to be a partner and I feel that the relationship we have with the Mayor, City Manager, Council and City Departments is just that: a great partnership where we all focus on the needs of our residents and businesses. For four years, I also hosted and raised sponsorships for the Public Safety Awards dinner. I am hoping once we are through the pandemic, we will re-start that event.

What has been the biggest impact on Mesa business from Covid? What are the challenges faced now as we, (hopefully) are coming out of Covid? Any lessons learned that you could share?

Fortunately, the City of Mesa received 90 million dollars through the CARES program. The Chamber was honored to be chosen as one of the organizations to assist with the Mesa CARES Small Business Technical Assistance Program. Our Communications Director and I spent about 600 hours from July 2020 – December 2020 coordinating those businesses who were approved for the program and our 14 members who became providers of products and services. 

We assisted in providing things like Web Development, Legal and Accounting Services, PPE, Signage, Educational Classes with Mesa Community College and 20 people even received a new Dell laptop. It was a lot of work and a huge honor to help these small businesses during this crisis. We learned so much. 

Not every business operates or has resources like others. They didn’t know what they didn’t know. Some businesses came to a stall while others were creative and thriving. At this point I would say that most businesses still having issues would be due to lack of workforce. It’s heartbreaking to see a small mom and pop restaurant struggle because the owner is now doing the administrative work, fixing things in the building, cooking, cleaning, and serving.

When you have some downtime, what are the things you most enjoy doing?

Downtime? I don’t have too much of that and that’s not all because of my role at the Chamber. I lost my oldest son, Bryce, in 2006 to suicide. He was 17 and a straight A student, had lots of friends, a couple of great jobs and the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known. He decided to make a horrible choice and end his life. 

Since then, I’ve chosen to stay busy. 4 years ago, there was a story in the Tribune about the East Valley losing teens to suicide. It was titled, 7 EV teen suicides in 6 weeks alarm schools. Since that time, I have worked with other people in the community to do what we can to be a resource for teens, parents, and teachers as well as our larger EV community. My younger son, now 28 and his girlfriend are close to getting married and I’m hoping grandbabies will follow shortly.

Most of my family is still in Washington state, so visiting them when I can, is important. Larry, my main squeeze for the past 9 years, and I spend a lot of time in the desert, with our 2 dogs and giving back to Veterans causes.

If we have Mesa retirees who wish to become involved with the Chamber and its activities, what are our first steps?

About 5 years ago, we had several members who were retiring from businesses and had all been very engaged over the years with our Chamber. They came to me saying they still wanted to stay involved. We created the “Friends of the Chamber” membership for that category of member. 

We don’t push it a lot, but when we know someone is retiring, we talk to them about this membership. It’s $100 a year and it works like any other membership for those who want to attend events and be part of committees. I’d love to offer that to any of the retirees who are looking for ways to stay involved.

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