New president of business group looks to unite commerce, citizens

When Larry Widmayer becomes the new Evanston Chamber of Commerce president tonight, he will begin a yearlong effort to unite Evanston businesses, residents and politicians.

“It’s no longer a function of them and us,” said Widmayer, who will assume the one-year position at tonight’s annual Chamber of Commerce meeting. “It has got to be all ‘us’ somehow.”

A selection committee of chamber members chose Widmayer last year based on his involvement in the chamber, said Dick Peach, the outgoing Chamber of Commerce president.

Widmayer has been a Chamber of Commerce member for eight years and has been on the chamber’s board of directors for five years.

“He’s really respected, not only by the business community, but by the politicians here in Evanston,” said Peach, who will continue his work for the chamber as past president throughout Widmayer’s term. “He’s got a great reputation as a coalition builder. He really knows how to bring people together.”

Widmayer said he is working on developing ways to get more community input, but he said he’s not ready to announce any specific plans yet. He compared the process of figuring out plans to landing an airplane.

“It’s at 10,000 feet right now, and we’re looking to land soon,” he said.

Widmayer also plans to continue work to unite the small business organizations of Evanston under the Chamber of Commerce, initiated this year by Peach. But Widmayer, a broker for Koenig & Strey GMAC, said his business expertise is in commercial real estate rather than in small business like Peach.

That experience on land and economic development issues facing Evanston could provide important views on issues facing the Chamber of Commerce and Evanston businesses, said Jonathan Perman, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.

“At this point in Evanston’s development,” Perman said, “he is exactly the person we need for the position.”

Widmayer is also examining ideas to revitalize Evanston’s manufacturing industry by bringing more industrial jobs to Evanston and by educating more high school students about those job possibilities. But he said his main focus will be to strengthen Evanston by bringing together professional, retail and resident interests that make up the city’s economy.

“I think we need to make sure the Chamber represents not only the businesses themselves,” Widmayer said, “but also moving toward a broader base in representing all the elements that make up our community.”