The drawl in Derrell Hartwick’s voice might suggest he isn’t from around these parts.
But the excitement in the voice of the new CEO of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce sounds like a man who feels like he’s finally coming home.
“I’m excited to get up to Coeur d’Alene and get out in front of the community, face to face,” he said. “What I love about our community is that each business within the Chamber needs different things to thrive. My main thing is, I’m here to listen, I’m here to find out what businesses need, and I’m here to help build on an already great organization.”
The 30-year-old Arkansas native — who was born and raised in North Little Rock and played football for the University of Arkansas — was unanimously voted in by the Chamber’s board of directors after a lengthy search.
“Derrell is going to be an outstanding addition to our community,” search committee co-chair Rick Rasmussen said Tuesday. “He is very enthusiastic and experienced. His energy, along with compelling ideas, will help us with our chamber’s mission to be a relevant and valuable resource to our business community.”
After winding down his football career and picking up a bachelor’s degree in communication, Hartwick went right to work for businesses in the Natural State, signing on as tourism manager for the North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. Not long after, he took a position at the Little Rock Regional Chamber, where he quickly ascended to director of sales.
“It’s in Derrell Hartwick’s DNA to lead a chamber,” board chair-elect Heidi Rogers said. “He brings a strong background in the chamber world and has tremendous experience in membership and retention.”
Membership and retention will be at the heart of his role at the Chamber, which officially begins Dec. 1.
“The Chamber already has a stable organization in place,” Hartwick said. “My next step is, I want to learn the environment and learn what Coeur d’Alene is all about. That knowledge base will help drive membership and get the business community involved.”
It’s a community, he said, he wasn’t born into but rather born to love, something he said he discovered four or five years ago.
“It’s funny,” Hartwick recalled. “I was dating this college student at Washington State University who was living in Pullman. I came out here to visit her. So we went up to Schweitzer—I’m an avid snowskier—and after we were done skiing, she asked if I’d ever heard of this little lakeside town down the road. She introduced me to this place, and I just fell in love right away.”
The relationship with the college student didn’t work out. The relationship with Coeur d’Alene was just beginning.
“The best thing I can do right now is just listen,” he said. “The Coeur d’Alene Chamber has such a great base, and that didn’t happen by accident. My question is, how do we take that to the next level? I’ll be coming down next week, from October 29 to the third [of November]. That’ll be for our annual meeting luncheon on October 30. That will give me a chance meet everybody, introduce myself to people and get more familiar with the board.”
Hartwick reiterated he intends to learn the town’s economic ebbs and flows, but he added that, once he gets acclimated to Coeur d’Alene, he wants to hit the ground running.
“Once I discover all the key elements that make Coeur d’Alene tick,” he said, “my goal is to reach out to businesses and make sure the Chamber represents the business community. I want to help grow the business community—first by driving membership, but also by strengthening our ties to our workforce. I want to partner with the colleges and the high schools to have more workforce-ready students. I want to help make sure there are jobs available for those local students, and I want to help local businesses of all sizes generate better jobs. Then I want to see those graduates eventually create their own businesses and grow the economy. That’s one vision I’d like to see in Coeur d’Alene.”
He added that he has big shoes to fill as he steps in for the Chamber’s retiring CEO, Steve Wilson.
“It’s obvious Steve has done such an incredible job,” Hartwick said. “He’s obviously been a big part of the community. I want him to continue to be involved in the Chamber ... He sets a pretty high bar.”
Wilson said he has all the confidence in the world for both the Chamber and his successor.
“It’s terrific that the board had such a thoughtful [hiring] process,” Wilson said. “I think that process produced an exceptional gentleman who will be a real asset to the Chamber.”