Guest Opinion: Why community leadership matters to businesses & employees

Denise Smith

Designed for adults, community leadership programs are different from an MBA or a professional continuing education course. Rather, their curriculum focuses on community issues. Additionally, community leadership programs encourage students to get involved with their communities.

Nationally & here in Clark County

These programs now exist in some form across the country, in cities such as Fairfax, Chicago, Houston – and here in the Northwest – Seattle, Portland, even Corvallis. Many are housed under the umbrella of local chambers of commerce. 

Leadership Clark County (LCC) has similar origins, founded in 1993 by leaders of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce (GVCC). As an organization serving all of Clark County, LCC eventually became a separate nonprofit entity that maintains strong ties to the GVCC and other business organizations.

Serving businesses of all sizes

Community leadership programs strive to serve a cross-section of the community, from the public-sector to the private-sector. This includes paying attention to a broad spectrum of businesses ranging from small shops to larger corporations. For example, the current LCC class of 32 includes a small business owner as well as a manager at a global company.

Kelly Parker, CEO of GVCC and an LCC Board member explains, “We know that business leaders make great community leaders because they’re organized, focused and have a tremendous work ethic. When business leaders get their hands on the tools taught in LCC, it broadens their vision to see the big picture. As a result, they can be more effective in all areas.”

“LCC is more than just a leadership training program. It provides opportunity to learn about all aspects of the community,” adds Michelle Giovannozzi, a current student and corporate relations manager for Clark College. “The depth and breadth of the sessions taught me many valuable things about our community that I can apply in my business outreach role at Clark College,” she notes.

A Mutual Benefit

Clark County businessman Dominique Merriweather, vice president at Umpqua Bank, considers community-minded employees as mutually beneficial to the company and the employee. 

“You are part of a community, whether you are a banker, an engineer or a caterer,” explains Merriweather, who currently serves as chair of Leadership Clark County’s volunteer Board of Directors. “When you take the time to educate yourself about the broader community in which you live and work, you’re able to bring a richer perspective to your interactions with colleagues, as well as to your personal circles. We hear this consistently from LCC students and the company executives who send employees through the program.”

Parker emphasizes the need for people to step up and lead from their corner of the map.

“You don’t have to be an elected official to be a leader,” she says. “In fact, many of our best leaders in this community will never run for office. They’re busy running businesses, teaching school, running nonprofits. But they are all leaders and we need them now more than ever before.”

Denise Smith joined Leadership Clark County as executive director in 2010. Prior to that, she served as a senior manager for a statewide nonprofit. She is a member of the Nonprofit Network of Southwest Washington and a past president of the Society of Marketing Professional Services Oregon-Southwest Washington chapter. She can be reached at

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