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Chamber Selects Dignan from Pool of 35 Candidates

BOARDMAN, Ohio – One of the reasons James Dignan took his new job with the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber apparently was to keep his family together.

When he stepped down last year as commander of the 910th Airlift Wing at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Dignan was told by his wife and three daughters that they didn’t care where he was moving, but they were staying.

The family lives in Howland Township.

“So I had to start thinking about what was it I was going to do if I was going to stay in the Mahoning Valley. I looked at a number of opportunities and this one kind of fell in my lap,” Dignan remarked.

Dignan, an Air Force colonel, was officially named as the successor to Tom Humphries, president and CEO of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, at the end of the regional chamber’s annual meeting Thursday.

During the luncheon meeting, the chamber also presented awards to four individuals.

At a meeting before the luncheon, the chamber’s board of directors voted to hire Dignan, who will start in June as chief operating officer for a transition period through the end of 2017. He will take over as president and CEO Jan. 1 from Tom Humphries, who has led the chamber since 1997.

Since leaving YARS in November, Dignan has served at the Pentagon in the office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for force readiness. He will serve in that post though May, he said.

The chamber position represented “an excellent opportunity” for him and his family, he remarked. He looks forward to follow the accomplishments Humphries and the chamber have achieved over the past 20 years and “take it to the next step,” he said.

Most important now is to learn the structure of the organization, get into the details and find out its strengths and weaknesses, he said. “We want to continue to grow the chamber and our mission and the scope, and make sure we’re doing what needs to be done,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunity here.”

Dignan was chosen from among a pool of about 35 candidates the chamber board considered in its search, said Ted Schmidt, Youngstown regional president for PNC Bank and chairman of the chamber board.

“We began our succession planning three years ago,” Schmidt said. The chamber’s board undertook what he describes as a “very exhaustive process to replace Humphries when the CEO approached him last year about stepping down.

“My aspirations were to see a good, smooth transition of the organization,” Humphries told members at the annual meeting. The chamber board and executive committee “couldn’t have picked a better person” than Dignan.

Reflecting on his tenure during remarks at the end of the program, Humphries said he loves leading the chamber. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities and I’ve done what I wanted to do.”

Questioned by reporters following the meeting, the CEO – who will remain with the chamber in a consulting capacity though 2018 after stepping down as president/CEO at the end of the year — praised Dignan’s leadership skills.

“He’s a risk taker. He stands up for his people,” Humphries said. “He knows how to stay in his lane when he has to and he’s willing to get out of the lane and change things when he needs to.” He also said his successor “will not be shy about” speaking out on what the chamber believes is right for the business community.

Dignan is a past member of the chamber board and was instrumental in the formation of the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission, which focuses on promoting military assets in the region, with a special emphasis on YARS and the Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center.

“What most people don’t realize is the economic impact that the base has,” Schmidt said.

Dignan is able to work with “a lot of different parties that don’t agree,” he continued. “James is a great communicator, he listens well and he’s not afraid to make decisions,” he added. “That’s what we’re looking for.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, praised both Humphries and his successor in an email responding to a request for comment.

Humphries, whom Ryan said he would always consider a friend, has been a leader in the region for as long as he can remember, he said. And since becoming president and CEO of the chamber, the organization has seen “unprecedented growth,” now representing more than 125,000 employees from nearly 2,600 companies.

“Tom has served with distinction, and our entire community is better off from his thoughtful leadership,” the congressman said. The chamber executive also played “an instrumental role” in encouraging young people like him to run for public office, he noted.

Ryan said he has no doubt the organization will be in good hands with Dignan. Under his leadership at YARS, Dignan over saw more than 1,300 personnel and was in charge of operations providing support for nearly 2,000 Air Force, Navy and Marine Reservists.

Dignan’s managerial skills, along with his past association with the chamber as a member of its board, “proves that he’ll be more than able to hit the ground running,” Ryan said, and he looks forward to working with him in his new role.

Related:
Chamber’s Humphries to Retire, Dignan Named Replacement
Regional Chamber Honors Siderewicz, Small, Meacham

Pictured: Tom Humphries and James Dignan.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.