Medford chamber of commerce president retiring
Brad Hicks started working for The Chamber of Medford & Jackson County in the early 1990s when rural communities were struggling to diversify after the decline of the timber industry.
He’s finishing his time as leader of the organization as businesses try to limp through to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The businesses in our community continue to astound me at their resilience,” Hicks said. “After more than a year in, people have been open and closed and open and closed and limited in their operations. They just keep figuring out new ways to stay open.”
Hicks said behind the scenes, the remaining staff members at The Chamber are doing everything they can to help businesses stay afloat. One-third of its dozen staff members have been laid off or furloughed.
Many of the remaining staff members are putting in 15-, 16- or 17-hour days trying to help save every business they can, Hicks said.
Sometimes that means helping to negotiate lower rent with a landlord, aiding a business trying to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan or helping the owner of a shuttered business get unemployment benefits.
“I’m extremely proud of our team and all the work that they’ve done. Our battle cry has been, ’No business ― whether they are a chamber member or not ― should go bankrupt,’” he said.
Hicks said he’s retiring effective June 30 because he now sees some light at the end of the tunnel for both the pandemic and the 2020 fires that destroyed more than 170 business buildings and 2,500 homes in Jackson County.
Cleanup and reconstruction are underway from the fires, and COVID-19 vaccinations are free and plentiful, although Jackson County is lagging behind the state average on vaccination rates.
Hicks said he plans to spend more time with his family after retiring. He’ll stay on in a consulting role with The Chamber for another year. He’s also started his own business consulting company called R.B.I., short for Representing Business Issues.
Hicks grew up in Grants Pass, spent time working at the Oregon Capitol, then returned and got a job with The Chamber in 1993. He became president and chief executive officer in late 1999.
The chamber grew its membership from about 1,000 to more than 1,700 at times ― making it one of the largest chambers on the West Coast alongside chambers from cities like Seattle and Los Angeles.
“At the time of Brad’s hiring, the board hoped to grow the size, budget and influence of the chamber, but no one could have imagined the heights to which Brad would take us,” said Jessica Gomez, chair of the chamber board of directors and CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices. “To have a chamber of our caliber in a community of our size is really unparalleled in the country.”
Hicks said the goal was never to get bigger just for the sake of size, but to increase the collective influence of Southern Oregon businesses by banding together.
The chamber’s membership now stands at about 1,400, with some businesses dropping out or closing during the pandemic.
Hicks said he hopes local entrepreneurs who had to close will find a way to open new businesses, providing jobs and opportunities for Southern Oregon.
Chamber officials said under Hicks’ leadership, the organization became an advocacy powerhouse, introducing key programs such as The Chamber Latino Network scholarship program, which has awarded over $300,000 to students.
Hicks and the chamber were also instrumental in efforts that led to the creation of the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center, U.S. Cellular Community Park, Rogue Credit Union Community Complex and nearly a billion dollars in regional transportation infrastructure projects, chamber officials said.
Officials said Hicks helped build relationships among business, education and government leaders that strengthened the political power of the region.
During his tenure, the chamber has won numerous state, regional and national industry awards. Hicks’ accomplishments include being named the Chamber Executive of the Year from both the Oregon State Chamber of Commerce and the Western Association of Chamber Executives, and serving on the United States Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100 representing top chambers in the nation.
The chamber’s board of directors unanimously decided to hire Eli Matthews, the current senior vice president of Travel Medford, to lead the chamber as Hicks’ successor, chamber officials said.
Hicks said Matthews is an experienced and capable person.
“I look forward to our chamber accomplishing even greater things in the days ahead,” Hicks said.
Hicks said he’s grateful he’s been able to work among lifelong friends from Southern Oregon in a place that he loves.
“I cannot think of a single thing I would rather have done over the last 28 years,” he said.