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Palmer steps down from Ottawa Chamber after 15 years

Boyd Palmer retires from the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry after 15 years as executive director. Palmer helped create an economic development task force to entice businesses to open in Ottawa, which remains today.
Boyd Palmer retires from the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry after 15 years as executive director. Palmer helped create an economic development task force to entice businesses to open in Ottawa, which remains today.

Boyd Palmer said regardless of the job, "timing is everything."

And he said he was lucky enough be available at the right time to take an opportunity as executive director of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the right time.

Now, he said, it's time to step down after 15 years.

"I'm going to miss it, I won't kid you," Palmer said. "It's kind of tough when you started working as a teenager, in the building trades at that time."

He first found himself in Ottawa in the early 1960s, working at his father-in-law's business, Press Drug Company, in the Jordan block. The chamber was a junior chamber of commerce at the time and they met at Heinz Café.

His love of assisting others in their business ventures began when working for the Small Business Development Center at Illinois Valley Community College where he helped entrepreneurs get on their feet and succeed.

"It was always rewarding to sit with people who had a dream and didn't know exactly how to make that dream of going into business come to fruition," Palmer said.

Palmer helped put new business owners in touch with the right professionals, such as accountants and attorneys, as well as helped create a business plan to guide success. It was endlessly rewarding and provided for its own challenges, which are what kept him there for 20 years and where he expected to retire.

That was until a position opened at the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2004, of which Palmer had served on the board in 1999.

He said he considered the position, for only a matter of seconds.

"It was on the verge of ... of what's happened here in Ottawa today," Palmer said, gesturing out his window overlooking Ottawa's downtown. "There was a whole change in thought-process and leadership."

The city adopted a new beautification process downtown, which attracted new businesses into the formerly concrete-laden blocks, and then-Mayor Bob Eschbach was always open to new ideas.

Including Palmer's idea that an economic development task force be created.

His goal with the chamber was to focus on economic development, and Eschbach saw the value in gathering together a team of professionals willing to answer any question a prospective company may have.

"It was very unique in the state at the time. There was nothing like that," Palmer said.

The state of Illinois would fly business officials to the area where Eschbach would meet them at the airport and bring them directly to a meeting with a task force consisting of representatives from organizations such as unions, banks, schools and more.

"Any entity a company would want an answer from was at that table," Palmer said. "And (the business officials) were amazed they could sit at a table and get answers like that. And it worked."

Many of the business on the city's far north side sat at the table, including companies such as PetSmart, Tyson Fresh Meats and some that ultimately did not locate in Ottawa.

Eschbach said it had been a pleasure to work with Palmer during his tenure as mayor.

"Under Boyd's leadership, chamber membership grew substantially and the chamber board became more diverse and representative of the business community," Eschbach said. "Boyd worked tirelessly in cooperation with city staff to find and follow up on prospective new businesses which, over the years, resulted in thousands of jobs. At the same time, he regularly met with existing employers to learn of and help address any challenges they faced."

Current OAC Chairwoman Angie Stevenson noted Palmer's easy-going attitude and approachable nature as being key to his success in the position.

She noted he was always available for a quick question and "great guidance."

"I would say it's been more than 15 (years) for what he's done for the Ottawa community," Stevenson said.

Palmer estimates the position will change for the next person to follow him, perhaps to a more "traditional" role of a chamber with an increased focus on its members.

He expects, like as happened in the past, interest in Ottawa will increase with outside businesses, and he hopes the relationship the chamber has had with the city will remain the same.

"The city/chamber relationship is very important and I hope that relationship we've had with the city in my tenure still exists, and I'm sure it will be," Palmer said.

For now, he expects to take some time off with his wife, Phyllis, and do some traveling, but he expects he'll find other ways to keep himself busy in the future.

"It's been great. I've been fortunate," Palmer said. "They say timing is everything, and timing was right all throughout my career."

Those looking to celebrate with Palmer can attend a retirement celebration at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Festivites Unlimited, 1504 Poplar St., Ottawa. Registration is encouraged by calling the Chamber at 815-433-0084 or emailing info@ottawachamberillinois.com.

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