Skip Alford is arriving to assume the responsibilities of Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce president effective Jan. 6, after chamber President Phyllis Thompson’s retirement. Alford brings chamber, hospitality industry and Air Force experience.
“I love what I do and I believe in it. … I think that the chamber of commerce is a valid entity,” Alford says of chambers generally. “I think it’s important; it’s essential for a community to remain strong and vibrant, and that’s what I want to help make happen here as Statesboro grows and blossoms into everything it can be.”
He was in town Monday and stopped at the newspaper for an interview. Alford and his wife, Suzanne, have leased a house in Bulloch County near Statesboro and will be moving here from Palm Harbor, Florida. He has given notice in the job he is leaving, as president and CEO of the Greater Palm Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce, where he served two years and eight months.
At the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber, the president is top paid staff member, while the chair is a volunteer chosen annually from among the members. Chris Gohagan, an attorney with the Statesboro firm Taulbee, Rushing, Snipes, Marsh & Hodgin, started his term as the chamber’s chair during its recent annual meeting.
It’s a time of greater transition. In addition to Thompson, who has served nine years as president, Roxanne Kibler, who has worked 17 years for the chamber and is now membership manager, is also retiring. The chamber board is hosting a drop-in reception saluting them, 1-4 p.m. today (Tuesday), in the headquarters at 102 South Main St.
The chamber’s only other staff member, special projects director Heather Markle, is staying. This staff serves a business service organization with 561 members, ranging from the county’s largest employers to individual members.
A committee conducted a search, and Alford accepted an offer from the chamber board.
“I like that he is from a small, Southern town. I like that he served in military,” Gohagan said. “I think that his values will resonate well with Bulloch County business owners, and certainly his direct chamber executive experience makes him a highly qualified applicant for this position and someone we feel like has the kind of skills that are going to be necessary for our chamber to move forward.”
Jerry Ray Alford Jr. grew up in Clinton, Mississippi, near Jackson. When his father played pro baseball for Minor League affiliate teams of the Baltimore Orioles, Alford was nicknamed “Skipper” after one of the coaches. Shortened to “Skip” in adulthood, it’s the name he uses professionally.
Clinton, home of Mississippi College and its Choctaws, is a lot like Statesboro, he said.
He joined the U.S. Air Force right out high school and retired 20 years later as a technical sergeant, having served as a Non-Commissioned Officer Academy instructor. He attained a bachelor’s degree in criminology from the University of Maryland and a master’s in human resources management from Troy University, both while in the Air Force.
After the Air Force, he took jobs in the hospitality industry and for the security services corporation ADT. He worked for Holiday Inn Sunspree Resorts, then for ADT, then for a Marriott hotel group, and again with ADT, always in sales, before starting his chamber career, he said.
“If you look at the discipline of the military, the protocol, the customs, courtesies, the very disciplined way of looking at doing everything right, combined with the human element of hospitality, combined with the professional sales training that I had, if you look at all that life experience, I think it helped me literally become who I am now,” Alford said.
Work with chambers
While working in sales in northwestern Florida, he became a chamber ambassador – a volunteer role for members – and eventually chair of the ambassadors at the Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce. Then he was hired as director of membership on the chamber staff.
“Being an ambassador, then being the chairman of ambassadors, then being on the actual chamber staff, I think that gave me the whole idea of what it meant to not only be a chamber staff member, but I’ve lived it on both sides,” Alford said.
He credits Panama City Beach Chamber then-CEO Lance Allison with sending him to U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute of Management courses each summer. Alford mentioned that he is now a member of the board of regents for the U.S. Chamber’s regional institute at the University of Georgia.
He first became a chamber CEO at the South Dade Chamber of Commerce, in the Homestead and Florida City area just south of Miami, in 2015. He went from there to Palm Harbor, which is in the Tampa Bay region, in mid-2017.
Alford’s three sons are all grown up and have all served in the military – Zeb in the Army; Zach, in the Air Force; and Sam in the Coast Guard. Zeb is nearest, at Newnan, Sam is stationed in Puerto Rico, and Zach lives in Arizona, also home of the chamber president’s four granddaughters.
But when asked if this is a stepping stone, Alford, now in his late 50s, told chamber leaders he hopes to culminate his career here, putting all his skills to use for Statesboro and its business community.
“Statesboro, a town that has all this amazing potential of growth and prosperity, for whatever reason, it resonated with me,” Alford said. “Being a Southerner, coming to a town that I’m familiar with, I love the culture, I love the energy, I just have this amazing interaction that this is where I wanted to be.”
He mentioned the Blue Mile and Creek on the Blue Mile projects as contributing to that “amazing potential.”
“I’d like to just do everything I can, as president of the Chamber of Commerce, to help make Statesboro a place where our children’s children would love to call home, would love to have opportunity for growth, to raise their families, to have business right here,” Alford said. “I think one of the greatest things the Chamber of Commerce can do is think generationally, not just right now and immediate.”