Monte Davis, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, announced Thursday plans to leave the chamber by the end of summer.
“I promised in my letter of resignation that I’d stay until we found my replacement or Sept. 1, whichever came first unless I were to get an offer of an incredible position,” Davis told the Homer News Friday morning.
Davis and his wife, Jo, plan to move to Fort Worth, Texas, where Jo’s family lives.
“We’ve lived by my family for most of the last 35 years. ‘Whither thou goest,’ and she has,” said Davis, quoting from the Old Testament Book of Ruth words that serve as a statement of commitment. “I don’t know if she’d be here in Alaska without me. Actually, I can promise you she wouldn’t, so I’m just returning the respect I feel.”
Davis has been with the chamber since June 2011, when he replaced Paul Dauphinais, who left the chamber to become executive director of the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
Well-known entertainers, since 1979 Davis and his wife have recorded 11 albums as “JoAnn and Monte.” They spent 10 years as Holland America cruise line’s Alaska ambassadors, performing across the United States and Canada.
During a two-year period, they based in Fort Worth, but continued to keep strong ties to Alaska through ownership and operation of Alaska Travel Experts, specializing in Alaska tours.
In 2009, they returned to Alaska and Davis became the membership and advertising manager for the Alaska Travel Industry Association, a position he held until becoming executive director for the Homer chamber and visitor center.
Davis said the couple had planned to remain in Homer until he retired; however, the urgency to be closer to family increased after Jo suffered a heart attack last year and her sister faced a second bout of cancer.
“She’s feeling this incredibly strong pull to go, so we’re going,” said Davis.
Pat Melone, president of the chamber’s board of directors characterized Davis as “the best thing that ever happened to the chamber.”
“The smartest thing the board ever did was hire him and he will be sorely missed,” Melone said. “He’s been a great asset to the community.”
The chamber has begun the search for a new executive director.
“We’re not going to find another Monte, but we’ll find a good person and the chamber will continue in the direction it’s going, which is to serve all its members, not just some of its members, and continue to market Homer the way we always have,” said Melone.
That is a focus Davis counts as one of his accomplishments.
“When I got here, what I heard everywhere I went was that this chamber only represented the visitor industry, that we did little if anything for other business in town,” said Davis. “I found that was not true, but it was the perception. And so, if that’s the perception, it might as well be true.”
Determined to disprove that notion, Davis worked to institute Homer bucks. Made to resemble $5 bills, they were a way to encourage shopping at participating local businesses.
“We wanted folks to know we were doing everything we could to get money spent in this community,” said Davis, who also created a shopping derby coinciding with the 2012 Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby and a winter shopping derby.
In the last two years, Davis has become a familiar face at city council meetings.
“If the only time they see you is when you have your hand out or are complaining, then you really haven’t built relationships,” he said.
Davis has been an advocate for bringing natural gas to the southern Kenai Peninsula, as well as an active supporter of local improvements such as the high school track and facilities such as the Kevin Bell Ice Arena.
“Those are things that will attract young people and that’s vital,” said Davis.
Melone said the chamber’s focus reflects its membership.
“We were accused, and probably rightfully so, of being more tourist-oriented than business-oriented in the past, but for good reason. We had a greater percentage of members in the tourism industry, and we do represent the members,” said Melone.
“As long as our tourism members totally outweigh the rest, we will look like we favor tourism, but we don’t favor anyone. We’re trying to support everyone in the community,” she said.
Under Davis’ leadership, Melone said there has been an increase in memberships reflecting a broader base and wider support.
“I hope we’ll continue to have the support we’re feeling now from the city council and other organizations that have gained new respect for the chamber under Monte’s direction,” said Melone.
Davis recommended the incoming executive director be a dynamic individual, rather than a “shrinking violet.”
“It needs to be someone willing to listen and willing to speak, who is willing to serve,” he said. “You have to have the mindset of service. What can we, together, do to form how this community is going to look down the road?”
While here, Davis said he has learned it is important to “carefully choose your words and yet be open and frank with people.”
He identified Homer’s strength as a community with “a lot of people who really do want to effect how the community is going to look,” and encouraged a spirit of working together to resolve issues. That includes working with other southern peninsula communities.
“If we can get them (visitors) to Soldotna and then hit the gas again, we win,” said Davis of pooling resources to “convince everyone that the southern peninsula is a happening spot.”
Of Homer, specifically, Davis said, “Homer has a lot to offer. It’s an incredibly beautiful place. There are a lot of opportunities here. I regret I won’t be part of it, but I’m proud of the job I’ve done for the last couple of years. I gave it my heart and soul.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.