The new executive director of the Kent Chamber of Commerce is no stranger to the Northwest — the deep Northwest.
Andrea Keikkala, 27, started in the position just this month, coming to Kent from Alaska, the state where she spent much of her life. She previously worked as executive director of the Sitka Chamber of Commerce in the 49th state, and she said the Kent position sounded like a perfect step up. The position has been vacant since Feb. 22, when previous chamber leader Marcelle Wellington abruptly resigned.
“About six months ago, I started looking for a job running a bigger chamber,” Keikkala said. “I needed to branch out a bit. I thought I’d be comfortable here, and I have family in the area.”
Born in Seattle, she moved to Juneau, Alaska, with her family when she was 3. The family planned to live there temporarily while Keikkala’s father completed a construction job, she said, but they fell in love with the area.
After receiving her associate’s degree from the University of Alaska, she came back to Washington to continue her education at Gonzaga University. There, she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in religious studies.
Keikkala returned to Alaska to work as an aid for state Sen. Bert Stedman, later moving into a paralegal position at a Juneau law firm. She took the job at the Sitka Chamber in 2006, and she said it was during her two years there that she developed a passion for her current career.
“I just fell in love with that kind of work — just the community involvement and the politics, the events, the membership involvement – everything about running a chamber,” she said.
When she came to Kent for an interview with the Kent Chamber Board of Directors, she said she knew she could continue her passion here.
“I came down and met the board, and they were absolutely wonderful,” Keikkala said. “They were everything I would have wanted in people that would guide me in my career.”
Mark Albertson, board president, said the feeling was mutual.
“There were a lot of reasons we hired her,” he said. “First, she had chamber experience. She had a great track record there, too. She really turned the chamber around up there, and that was impressive to us.”
He explained that Keikkala increased membership at the Sitka Chamber by 25 percent during her time there.
“She’s also a very articulate speaker, and that’s important because she’s really the voice of the chamber in the community,” Albertson said. “And frankly, I admired her energy and enthusiasm.”
He said though she just started in the position, he’s already seeing good things.
“I’m excited by what’s happening,” he said. “She jumped right in, really took charge. She’s already got great ideas for making changes at the chamber.”
Keikkala agreed the job is going well so far.
“It’s going great,” she said. “There are some challenges, but I’m optimistic that we will build the chamber membership and be a thriving organization.”
She said Kent is a good fit, too, and the avid hiker, fisher and camper is enjoying exploring the outdoor opportunities of this part of the Northwest. Keikkala said she’s also impressed with the city itself, its diverse set of businesses and its friendly citizens.
“It’s just easy to navigate, and the people are very friendly,” she said. “(The businesses are) a great mixture of historical downtown shops and new places like the ones at Kent Station. It seems like I have everything at my fingertips, which is a big difference from Alaska. I’m very happy to be here, and I’m looking forward to working with the people in the community.”
For more information about the Kent Chamber of Commerce, call 253-854-1770, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.kentchamber.com.