A familiar face and Jackson County enthusiast, Paige Roberts has been hired as the new president and CEO of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.
Carla Todd Voda, who led the chamber for 18 years, announced her plans for retirement in January. Roberts will take the helm in late May.
“This opportunity presents me with great challenges to be a part of what’s already good and continuing to maintain that, as well as the opportunity to build,” Roberts said. “I’m all about building and relationships and partnerships and identifying what real issues are there, what solutions are possible, and bringing as many people to the table to come up with communal solutions.”
Roberts, who has been in Jackson County for 26 years, is a co-founder of the Pathways2Possibilities career expo for eighth-grade students and has previously worked with the American Red Cross and the Pascagoula-Gautier School District.
“I came as a reporter for WLOX-TV,” she said. “When you come to a community as a reporter, you are in a very unique position to learn that community quickly, all of the dynamics. Dynamics are about what really is making all of the pieces fit together or not. You also learn where the disconnects are. You learn everyone, and in a place like Jackson County and Mississippi, everyone is related in some form or fashion.”
From WLOX, Roberts went on to a public relations role for the Public Service Commission and then moved on to teach at Pascagoula High, which she called “an experience beyond anything I would have imagined.”
When she moved on to Red Cross and quickly faced hurricanes, Ivan and Katrina, learned what Jackson County was made of.
“What helped Jackson County move forward was the Mayberry network because everyone knows each other, and we know where the resources are, whether it is money, manpower, or materials,” she said. “We are able to reach out to each other and know we had each other’s back.”
Roberts said she’s eager to take on her new role with an open mind and open ears.
“My first goal is what we’re calling the listening tour, where it is going to be a lot of listening to a lot of people involved in the chamber and people not involved in the chamber, the why and the why not,” she said. “At the same time, we’re going to be looking at the various components of the chamber and what kind of analyses have been done. We can really look at the resource we’re committing and the outcomes. That’s really important.”
Roberts said she knows that there are many things the chamber should continue supporting, but she also suspects “there are some we have been doing by rote or by habit and tradition, and not necessarily because of the cost benefit.”
She’s coming in with an especially positive outlook because she feels the chamber is well respected and because she will have an opportunity to work with Voda over the next three weeks to learn the ropes and get the history.
“I want people to know that we’re in this together, and I am here for them,” Roberts said. “But I’m also going to be challenging them so we can move to the next level together. Partnerships are the only way to make things happen.”
Roberts said her goal is to “take it up to the next level” because technology is moving at such a rapid pace.
“In any organization, you have what’s good, what you want to protect, what needs to be improved, and what is the potential we need to work at capturing,” she said. “Is this going to be an easy job? No, it’s not. It’s going to be a lot of getting out into the community and listening to what people need and want and what they are willing to do to help get it, along with the chamber.”