Roshann Parris says it’s a “happy problem” that her plans as the new chairwoman of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce are mostly set.
“I can’t tell you how many people have asked me, ‘What’s your agenda going to be?’ My response has been, ‘Thank you, Greg Graves,’” said Parris, a public relations executive who this month took on the chamber’s yearlong volunteer leadership role.
Like her two immediate predecessors, lawyer Russ Welsh and health company executive Frank Ellis, Parris is adhering to a “Big 5” agenda set by their predecessor, Burns & McDonnell CEO Greg Graves. It’s a community course of action that established five main civic goals.
“Animal health is a checked box,” Parris said of one of the Big 5 goals. “Now we’re looking for a new one. The best part about the chamber’s leadership transition is that I’m picking up where Russ left off, and Terry Dunn will pick up after me. It’s no longer about individual hopes and dreams but about a collective vision.”
To select a new Big 5 priority, Parris plans to hold a series of community meetings, aided by Graves, who has agreed to lead the selection project.
“We need a deep dive first” to explore options, Parris said, noting that she’s exercised the chairman’s prerogative to appoint a few additional chamber board members to help spark discussion.
The four existing Big 5 goals are: to revive a specific inner city neighborhood; to foster an entrepreneurial climate in the metro area; to assist relocation of the UMKC Conservatory of Music to downtown Kansas City; and support the area as a center for translational scientific and medical research.
The fifth goal — declared realized this year — was to establish national reknown for the area as a center for the animal health industry. Civic leaders decided the area’s profile already was high in that regard.
The metropolitan chamber each fall turns over the top volunteer job to a different business leader, who works in tandem with chamber president Jim Heeter, the top staff member, to set priorities for civic projects and lobbying efforts.
The ceremonial gavel handoff — from Welsh to Parris — will take place at the chamber’s annual dinner, on its traditional Tuesday before Thanksgiving date. This year’s sold-out event will be held at the Kansas City Convention Center and include entertainment by TV star Kirstie Alley.
Parris is the founder and chief executive of Parris Communications, a 25-year-old public relations and public affairs company. She has worked nationally on advance teams for the Clinton and Obama White Houses and locally for such corporate clients as Cerner, Hallmark Cards, Truman Medical Centers, Burns & McDonnell, AMC, and the Stowers Institute.
She has been active on the chamber board for years and led several previous chamber initiatives and projects, including organizing the Governors Summits, which bring the governors of Kansas and Missouri to the same stage to address issues that cross the state line.
Parris said she sees the chamber as a “connector” that can create state partnerships as well as partnerships between businesses, governments and nonprofits in the Kansas City metro area.
“We have an energized board of directors,” she said. “This will be a good year.”