COLUMBIA — When the Columbia Chamber of Commerce needed to fill its new position, it turned to an old friend.
The Columbia chamber announced last week the hiring of Kristi Ray, 41, to fill the newly-created executive vice president position. Raybegan her career in 1989 as an administrative assistant with the Columbia chamber. She will leave her current post in October as director of membership at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where she’s worked since 2001.
The Columbia chamber identified the need for the new executive position as part of its “strategic plan” initiative. The chamber’s initiative seeks to increase the number of high-tech jobs in Columbia, as well as to increase its own impact in the area, according to the chamber’s Web site.
Columbia chamber president Don Laird sees Ray as the logical hire.
“She worked with us back in the early ’90s,” Laird said. “She learned how our operations worked, and she’s had an opportunity to work with two other local chambers of commerce. She lives in Columbia, so she knows the area.”
Ray previously held executive positions at the Kirksville and Cedar Falls, Iowa, chambers of commerce, as executive director and president, respectively.
The new executive is looking forward to working again in Columbia.
“Columbia has one of the best chambers in the state,” Ray said. “When I had a chance to work there again, I was very excited to do that.”
Ray’s successor at the Kirksville chamber gave her high marks.
“She’s an incredible person,” said Alison Kigar, director of the Kirksville chamber. “She knows chamber work inside and out, and she has a passion for the small business owner.”
That passion is something Ray mined from her father, a small business owner who worked as an independent petroleum distributor.
“It’s made a huge difference in how I do my job,” Ray said. “I often stop and think, ‘What would this particular decision do for my father’s business?’”
The Columbia chamber began the application process for the new position in June; Ray was chosen from a field of more than 100 applicants.
The chamber has more than 1,300 dues-paying members and states its mission is to “drive commerce in our region and advance community and regional collaborations.” About 80 percent of the Columbia chamber’s members are small businesses with less than 20 employees, according to the chamber’s Web site.