Dignan Out at Chamber, Humphries Returns as ‘Transition CEO’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Come Monday morning, Tom Humphries will again be running the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber — and will remain its “transition CEO,” he says, until a replacement is found for James Dignan, whose contract was not renewed Friday afternoon.

Dignan, named in March 2017 to succeed Humphries as president and CEO, assumed the position Jan. 1, 2018, when Humphries retired after leading the chamber for 20 years.

Dignan’s employment contract expires Dec. 31; the chamber executive committee informed him of its decision today and notified staff.

“His agreement was up for consideration and the chamber decided not to go forward,” Humphries says. “I think it was more of a redirection than anything else. I’m not aware of any personnel issues.”

“I’m disappointed,” Dignan tells The Business Journal. “I was looking forward to getting a contract renewal, continuing to take the chamber in the direction I think is important but the executive committee had a different vision.”

Asked to explain the differing visions, Dignan says he wanted “to expand the government affairs and government relations piece and the executive committee didn’t see the value in that direction.”

Instead, he says, “They want to go back to what the chamber has always done, member services and economic development projects.”

“Our community saw some things happening, us pulling together, greater collaboration, speaking with one voice,” Dignan says of his time at the helm.

Most recently, he was part of a consortium of local leaders that secured a $2 million grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to the Eastgage Regional Council of Governments to fund the Mahoning River Corridor Restoration plan. Sources indicate there was disagreement with some members of the chamber executive committee about whether that was a good use of chamber resources since it would not benefit financially from the grant funds.

The Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which funds chamber economic development programs, received $502,531 in grants during 2017 – Humphries’ last year, according to the most recent 990 nonprofit tax return available through public records. By comparison, grants totaled $886,699 in 2016.

The 2017 tax return for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, filed in August 2018, shows the organization ended 2017 in the red by $157,420, as compared to a negative $214,348 in 2016.

Dignan will remain on the chamber payroll through the end of the year.

The abrupt turnover comes as the chamber prepares to unveil a new logo Monday, and its lease for office space downtown comes up for renewal. The chamber makes its headquarters at 11 Central Square in the top two floors of the office building that houses First National Bank.

Humphries says the staff has reviewed three or four locations — all downtown — for its headquarters.

The former CEO, now transition CEO, says he was “approached about two weeks ago and asked if I would be willing to fill the role.”

Tom Humphries is returning to the Regional Chamber as its “transition CEO.”

Humphries says he has already talked to senior staff. “I told them I’m looking forward to sitting down, working with them, identifying where we’re at and how we’re going to move forward together,” he says.

“I’ll go in Monday, sit with the executive committee and board and report to them what I find and see. I have no preconceived ideas. I’m going in with no agenda and will try to run it like I always did.”

Dignan is a retired colonel with the Air Force Reserves and first came to the Mahoning Valley in 2013 when he was named commander of the 910th Airlift Wing at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.

“I’ll find another role, another place, something else I can do to contribute to the betterment of our community,” he says.

“It’s an honor to work with all those folks. The chamber has a really capable team. I always say, “We hit way above our weight class.’ It’s the Mahoning Valley way.”

Pictured at top: James Dignan.

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