It’s been a homecoming of sorts for Chris Finley. As the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce’s new executive director, he is returning to his roots in a community that has been a major part of his life.
Finley spent more than a decade as director of marketing for The Willard Companies before leaving in 2015 to take a position as communications manager for BAE Systems, a Radford-based international defense, aerospace and security company.
Finley admitted he was unsure about applying for the executive director position at first. He said he was interested, but content where he was. In addition to his job at BAE Systems, he also worked as a part-time public relations instructor at Radford University and served as the board director on the Radford Chamber of Commerce.
After speaking to some of his colleagues, Finley said he eventually changed his mind. “The more I thought about it, the more I was interested in returning,” he said.
For Finley, the role of executive director will provide him with an opportunity to make a lasting impact on the community and the region, much like that of his predecessor Vicki Gardner, who stepped down in July after 17 years. He said his goal is not to replace Gardner, but to build on her accomplishments. “You can’t replace Vicki,” he said.
Gardner even came to wish Finley well on his first day on the job in late October and offered to help any way she could. “That meant the world to me,” Finley said.
Finley has spent his first few weeks looking to the future. He is reaching out to neighboring chambers of commerce to look for ways to cooperate and share services. He is also looking to start new programs and events to help local businesses.
Finley said he would like to institute a weeklong promotion for local restaurants where they would offer deals to encourage locals to come out for a meal. The event would possibly be held sometime in the spring, he said.
Another goal for Finley is for the chamber to start a leadership program for local businesses to sponsor their employees to participate in the program.
This January, Finley will be holding a meeting with the chamber’s board of directors where they will work to develop a five-year plan for the community. The plan will focus on annual events in the area, as well as any upcoming legislation that could impact the region.
Above all, Finley said he is ready to represent the lake community and is eager to work with local businesses to help them grow. “My door is always open,” he said.