When it comes to job satisfaction, it's a pretty safe bet to say there aren't many people happier than Bend Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Katy Brooks. Sitting in a downtown teahouse, she exudes exuberance as she talks about her eight-month anniversary on the job. "But who's counting?" she adds with a fleeting smile.
Before coming to Bend, the native Portlander spent 11 years working in economic development for the Port Authority of Vancouver, Wash. She and her family bought property in Central Oregon several years ago, and Brooks says she's been coming here since she was a kid, recalling fond memories of Green Lakes and hiking and camping around Bend.
As for the move, "I wanted to be happy and stretched with my job," Brooks says. "This job came open and it had me written all over it. It's so much fun and it's been a delight. I love my job and I love it here. It's just happiness. So many folks have reached out with a helping hand. It's lovely being so welcomed and I deeply appreciate it."
Brooks says her business style is "collaboration," in which people come together to work toward "similar goals much bigger than you could ever do on your own."
The Bend Chamber currently has about 1,300 member businesses that have partnered with groups including Better Together, all for the benefit of Central Oregon children. Brooks welcomes the role of becoming a liaison between the business community and local educational institutions such as OSU-Cascades, Central Oregon Community College and the Bend-La Pine School District. She is especially excited about a newer program, Education 2 Employment, which launched June 6 at COCC.
"It's a really cool thing that's going to get our kids a lot of work experience, teaching them skills." The best-case scenario, she says, "is that students will develop a relationship with a local business, graduate, fall in love with a career path and then stay here." High on her list is implementing a strategic plan for Education 2 Employment. "I'm pretty excited about that. It's really going to be a hoot and I'm really excited to see what comes out of it."
Brooks has a missive from the board to help the Chamber become more relevant to the business community and to the Bend community in general. Toward this end, she strives to form partnerships between the Chamber and groups involved with local issues like transportation and housing. "It's my job to make sure I understand what's going on out there and interacting with folks. I have met with hundreds and hundreds of people to find out where we are missing the boat, and how do we add value to what we do, making sure they understand that we're really trying to meet their needs."
She extols two other programs, including Leadership Bend, a learning experience for those who are "community minded and active in the community," and the Young Professionals Network, for the 40 and under crowd. "They learn from each other and we bring in some sages and they learn from them, too," Brooks says.
"This is a town that is ripe with big thinkers. That's my favorite part, interacting with people who do things. You don't always find that in a small town." She marvels at how many civic and community groups there are in Bend, populated by such motivated people. "That's what I love about this place."
Brooks has lived in Bend full time since last October, before the rest of the family moved down during the holiday break. She and her husband, Don Francis, still own an environmental contracting company in Portland, which keeps Don busy. They have 13-year-old twins, Abby and Leo. "They're pretty awesome," she says with motherly pride, adding that they like to kid her that this has been "the year that mom moved us to the North Pole." That joke started one frosty evening this past winter when "we had people on our roof at 10 o'clock at night shoveling off four feet of snow."
As for life outside of work, Brooks says she enjoys running in the mornings, but adds, "I think I'm happiest on a mountain bike in the woods."