By Romi Carrell Wittman –
Takes the Reins of Tucson Metro Chamber
“Better together” could be Amber Smith’s motto.
After nine years spent building the Metropolitan Pima Alliance into the collaborative regional force it is today, Smith believes very strongly that the path to a prosperous community is possible only when we work together to find common ground. This philosophy will serve her well as she steps into her new role – president and CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber.
Smith is the first woman to lead the Chamber in the 120-year history of the organization, and she comes to the job at a time of community transformation. Southern Arizona faces several critical economic issues, like infrastructure demands and workforce development, issues that outgoing Chamber CEO Mike Varney incorporated into the Chamber’s mission.
At the press conference announcing Smith’s appointment, Larry Lucero, senior director of government and external affairs at Tucson Electric Power and the 2018 chair of the Metro Chamber board, said the moment was a passing of the torch. “Amber brings her exceptional business advocacy track record and will build upon Mike’s success,” he said. “I was impressed with her community vision and the different perspective she brings to the Chamber.”
Under her leadership, the Chamber will continue to strive to improve its business advocacy efforts to ensure business owners and executives have a voice in policy and legislation that could affect their businesses. Smith is ready to take on these issues and further the Chamber’s mission and vision. “The value I bring is that I have an outsider’s perspective – with connections and relationships throughout the community,” she said. “We don’t need simply a Chamber response to issues. We need a community response.”
Smith is well-known throughout Southern Arizona for her work not only with MPA, but also her involvement with the DM50, a nonprofit, volunteer organization with the mission of educating local and national leaders about the vital role that Davis-Monthan Air Force Base plays in the local economy and in national defense.
She also co-founded – and currently serves as president of – the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance, a civic group similar to the DM50, but with the specific mission of supporting all military assets located across Southern Arizona. This includes the 162nd Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard, Fort Huachuca, the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station, the Yuma Proving Grounds and the Arizona National Guard Silverbell Army Heliport in Marana.
Through the DM50 and SADA, Smith has worked closely not only with local business leaders and elected officials, but also with congressional leadership. Last year, Smith met with Arizona’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., about the national security importance of the Southern Arizona military installations.
Ted Maxwell, president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, has worked with Smith on several projects, including SADA. He believes Smith will bring to the job not only her extensive knowledge of the local economic landscape, but – perhaps even more critically – a sense of collaboration. “Amber brings a good understanding of business, from big to small,” he said. “She has a willingness and passion to collaborate and work with anyone in the community in order to improve the business environment and quality of life in our region.”
Smith’s policy bona fides are strong. Originally from Houston, she attended the University of Arizona, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and later a master of public administration degree. Her work experience includes serving in the office of Sen. John McCain in constituent services and as an intergovernmental relations associate for Racy & Associates, a firm specializing in policy and government relations.
Her personal ties to the community also run deep. She lives on Tucson’s northwest side with her husband, Robert, a fire captain with the Tucson Fire Department. They share their home, which sits on several acres, with their three young sons, ages 9, 7 and 3, plus several goats, donkeys, dogs and some chickens for good measure. Her family and home – the Smith Ranch, as she calls it – provide a much-needed respite from the demands of her professional life.
“I get to escape the craziness of the day and enjoy my boys, garden and animals in a peaceful part of town. We really love the exquisite natural environment Tucson offers,” she said. “Tucson genuinely offers the perfect balance for both a rural or urban lifestyle.”
As with any new job, there will be a learning curve. Board chair Lucero said, “The work she’s going to have to do now is learning Chamber business. She has the policy background, but the Chamber world is new.”
Smith is excited about the challenges and opportunities ahead. “While the learning curve is a vertical incline, I am excited and proud to have this platform to grow our workforce development, improve our infrastructure, strengthen small businesses and create the right environment to raise a family, attract talent and retain our graduates,” she said. “The Chamber will lead in uniting the interests of the business community for the prosperity of the entire metropolitan Tucson area.”