The new executive director for the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, who helped establish a bottled water company in Sitka, has spent most of the last year and a half in Southern California marketing products in movies such as Jackie Chan's "The Tuxedo" and MTV's "The Real World."
Todd Saunders, 41, began his first day of work with the chamber on Monday, replacing Jamie Parsons. Parsons resigned from the position earlier this year to move to Cairo, Egypt, with his wife Mary Beth, who accepted a two-year teaching position there.
Saunders holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and a master's degree in general business management from Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
The chamber, an organization with more than 300 local businesses as members, advocates on regulatory, transportation, development and other issues in Juneau.
Chamber President Jim Scholz said the decision was made after a three-month nationwide search that attracted more than 20 qualified applicants.
"Not only was the chamber's selection committee unanimous in its recommendation to forward Todd's name, but the board of directors was also unanimous," Scholz said.
Saunders comes to Juneau from Hood River, Ore., by way of Long Beach, Calif.
Saunders moved to Sitka in 1995, where he lived for more than six years. From 1995 to 1997, he worked for Sitka Tribal Enterprises where he managed the funding, design, development and construction of the Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi tourism and convention center.
While in Sitka, Saunders also served for two years as the executive director for the Sitka Economic Development Association.
He also helped secure more than $7 million in startup funding to develop a 90,000-square-foot, water-bottling plant for the Sitka Beverage Corp. He served as vice president of marketing for the company and moved to Long Beach in 2001 to launch a national sales and marketing campaign.
Saunders said he developed distribution agreements with West Coast distributors and chain stores such as Safeway, Albertsons and Whole Foods to carry the Alaska-made bottled water. But Sitka Beverage Corp. fell on hard times in 2001 and eliminated Saunders' position.
He then worked as a consultant, placing commercial products such as Langleys Juice and Airborne Express shipping in films and television programs.
"I was connected to some people down there in the movie business of all things and was doing product placement," Saunders said.
After leaving sunny California and living for a few months in Fort Hood, Ore., Saunders said he was ready to get back to Alaska.
"When you've experienced Alaska firsthand on both the nature side and on the side of dealing with the people and getting involved with the activities it's hard to get fulfilled in the same way when you go back down south," Saunders said. "You get to know the people. ... It's not even the fact that it's a big city. You get into smaller cities in the Lower 48 too and there isn't that same camaraderie."
Saunders said he looks forward to working with the chamber and community and filling the big shoes left by Parsons.
"I really think that my job might be a little bit easier in a sense that my job is to come in here like a manager of a baseball team that just won the World Series - to keep the ball rolling and not necessarily to change everything and turn over all those other rocks," Saunders said. "... (I'll) try to keep the ship going the way that it is. Then, at a certain point where I can see opportunities where my own personality and my own skills can maybe improve the chamber and benefit the business community, then I'll step in and do that. I am not coming looking to aggressively throw my agenda around because I don't think it's necessary."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com.
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