Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.
The Denison Area Chamber of Commerce introduced new Chamber President Ken Higdon to the community Tuesday morning at its annual banquet. The chamber announced its decision to name Higdon as its new president late Monday night, following a 10-month search.
“I am really honored to be selected as the new president,” Higdon said. “I looked at the energy and synergy between the city, the economic development folks. This community, this chamber, has a lot going for it and we should be thankful.”
Higdon brings with him nearly 25 years of experience in chamber management with organizations including the Temple Chamber of Commerce and, most recently, the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce in Paris. Higdon has also worked with Fort Worth-based Your Chamber Connection, and HRC, Inc of Abilene. During his time with the Temple Chamber, Higdon said he saw chamber membership rise from about 400 to 1,500.
As one of his goals for the Denison Chamber, Higdon said he will work to increase membership. One of the major duties for the Chamber is to represent the local business community, and one of the best ways to get the attention of legislators and representatives is to have numbers, he said.
In order to do this, Higdon said he plans to review the Chamber’s programming and other activities to make membership worthwhile to local businesses. Higdon compared Chamber membership to an investment on the part of the local business community. With this approach, Higdon said he wants to treat the Chamber like a business.
“You are not just donating your money,” he said. “You are investing in us and expect a return on that.”
Other changes that Higdon would like to pursue include updates and programming on technology, noting that business technology changes quickly.
Higdon said the Lamar Chamber and Denison Chamber are similar sizes and scopes, with the main difference being that Lamar also oversees a civic center.
The announcement of Higdon’s hiring comes nearly 10 months after the Chamber started its search for a new face following the retirement of former Chamber President Anna McKinney after nearly 40 years amid internal investigations into Chamber and Convention and Visitors Bureau funds that appeared to be missing.
In August, McKinney pleaded guilty to theft of over $30,000 and under $150,000 and was sentenced to five years of deferred adjudication and a fine of $1,000. As a part of the plea agreement, McKinney also repaid the Chamber $55,477, representing the total losses by the Chamber and CVB.
Interim Chamber President Shelle Cassell said despite his close proximity to Denison, Higdon only appeared as a candidate late in the search process. After two searches, the Chamber offered the position to another candidate, but the job offer was declined, Cassell said previously. With his ample experience and local ties, Higdon soon became a favorite for the position, she said.
Chamber Board Chairman Jason Taylor said Higdon has a track record with similar organizations that shows his past successes. In particular, Taylor said he was interested in Higdon’s experience in growing a chamber, and its membership.
Despite the lengthy process, Taylor said the search was successful and the Chamber now has the ideal candidate in line for its top position.
“It is kind of one of those things where you wait and wait and wait for the holy grail and God drops the perfect guy in front of you,” Taylor said.
For his part, Higdon said he only heard about the opening in the last two months following conversations with Chamber staff. After thinking the situation over, and the progress in Lamar County, Higdon decided to throw his hat into the ring.
Higdon is expected to start on the job on Nov. 10.