The Chamber’s New Workhorse

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

What's the difference between being a military intelligence analyst and running a chamber of commerce? Not as much as you might think, says Michael Dalby, the Columbus Chamber's new president and CEO. And Dalby should know--he lists both jobs on his résumé.

"There are actually some pretty good connections between doing that work for the military and doing the chamber's work," says Dalby, a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer from 1981 to 1993. Both jobs require "collecting a lot of information and being able to use that information," he says. "Now I'm in the local businesses intelligence business."

Since leaving the Air Force, Dalby, 52, has held leadership jobs in several organizations, most recently at One Southern Indiana, a 1,200-member regional chamber with a nationally recognized Business Retention & Expansion program.

Retention and expansion will be key to Dalby's success in Columbus, now that the more muscular Columbus Partnership has taken over business recruitment. Under the Columbus2020 plan, the Partnership's roster of CEOs will work to woo their peers to Central Ohio.

Replacing former chamber boss Ty Marsh, who left in July, took "longer than I anticipated," says chamber Chairman Jack Partridge, who's also president of Columbia Gas of Ohio and a Partnership member. "We had to get our heads around what kind of organization we wanted to be and what kind of leader we needed."

Dalby "is not a showboat, he's more of a workhorse, and that's just what we need," Partridge says. "He's very good on his feet, sharp, he has good interpersonal skills and will be a good person for us."

The 2,000-plus-member Columbus Chamber also hopes to grow membership, particularly among small- and medium-sized businesses. Dalby says the chamber wants to be a "business concierge" of sorts, a resource when it comes to advocacy, business solutions, potential clients and other matters.

"I think the chamber has a strong position with its collaboration with the Columbus Partnership [and in] Columbus2020," Dalby says. "I like seeing that the community is starting to think in terms of, ‘How do we bring this together and not fragment our efforts, but concentrate our efforts to help the economy?' "

With biz-friendly Gov. John Kasich planning to privatize the Ohio Department of Development, Partridge says he's "really encouraged. There's a can-do attitude out there that I haven't seen before."

"It's definitely a dynamic environment," says Dalby. "There's change going on, but there is also a hopefulness, I think, in the business community."

Reprinted from theApril 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.