Brad Lacy, the president and CEO of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corporation, was a geography major who didn’t leave his college town. His postgraduate interest in urban planning evolved into a a curiosity about, and then nearly-two-decades-long career in, economic development.
Lacy, who attended UCA and then went on to work for Acxiom and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, is in his 19th year of working for Conway Development Corporation. It’s still his dream job, he said.
Unlike many other cities, the chamber of commerce shares its building – and staff – among several different agencies that all work together toward a “common vision,” Lacy said. Lacy himself has helped guide that process; his role with Conway’s economic development organization led to his leadership role with the chamber in 2006.
About 50 years ago, Lacy says, the infrastructure of Conway was pretty unified. Then, over the years, a series of separations led to a group of different organizations “with no real common vision or sort of uniformity of what we do,” Lacy said. That changed in the early 2000s.
“In 2006, we had some local business leaders that didn’t understand why you would have a CEO of the ED organization and a CEO of the chamber,” he said. “At the time, I was the CEO of the ED organization and they were looking for a new CEO of the chamber and it worked out quickly. In a matter of a couple months, we started putting the framework together to pull those organizations together and you didn’t lose the identity of those organizations. The boards still exist, there’s autonomy there, but we do share a single staff.”
The Conway Downtown Partnership, Toad Suck Daze, Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau, Conway Area Leadership Institute, and of course, Conway Area Chamber of Commerce are all housed in the chamber of commerce building.
“Some people are paid by this organization and some people are paid by another organization, but to the outside world, it’s one organization,” Lacy said. “And that really is what matters because we’re an economic development and growth organization and so the people that we need to speak to are not from Conway, if we’re going to continue to grow.”
This structure helps the organizations provide a one-stop shop for established Conway businesses and out-of-towners.
“It’s confusing when you try to explain who does what and why, you know ‘We can’t help you with this you need to go two doors down.’ To a customer, it’s all the same,” he said.
Communication is key to Conway’s success, as Lacy tells it.
“[Conway is] more urban than it’s ever been, which I think is a good thing, but it has never seemed to lose kind of the best elements of small town America,” he said. “There’s a closeness here. The business community is very unified in their vision for where they want to see the city go. There are strong relationships between city government and the business community and I think that’s unique. You don’t see that in a lot of places.”
One of the few potential obstacles to Conway’s bright future would be if those relationships faltered.
“If we ever lost that alignment of vision between the public and private sectors, then we’re in trouble,” he said. “But I think that we all work really hard to keep that in place.”