Eager to show up: New chairwoman ready to contribute to chamber efforts

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Katie Powell foresees a challenging year ahead for Grand Valley businesses in recovering from the effects of a pandemic.

But Powell believes the world can be changed by those who show up and care enough to act. And the incoming chairwoman of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors remains resolute in her intentions. “I’m absolutely going to show up.”

She expects to bring with her a variety of experiences and skills from her career, the last eight years with Munro  Companies and the last year as president of a long-running family operation that manufactures and sells pumps, pump controls and related equipment.

She also brings with her a familiarity with the area in which she grew up and that enticed her to return.

Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction chamber, says Powell offers a unique perspective as a young woman overseeing a manufacturing operation.

She offers something else, Schwenke says. “She has great leadership skills.”

Powell says she’s a bit intimidated to serve as a board chairwoman and what’s in effect a leader of leaders, but also eager to do so. “I’m excited and humbled by the opportunity to serve both the chamber and the Mesa County business community.”

Powell starts her year-long term in January. She succeeds Vance Wagner, regional president of ANB Bank in Western Colorado.

Powell says she expects to participate in the process of decision-making as well as serve as a voice for the board and help carry out chamber initiatives. She also wants to make chamber members and those considering membership aware of benefits that include not only networking, but also education and advocacy.

She says chamber efforts can be encapsulated in three Cs as a catalyst for business and economic growth, convener of leaders and influencers and champion for a strong community. “I love the simplicity of that.”

Those efforts are more important than ever, she says, in helping businesses recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions.

She cites as one example chamber involvement in a program allowing participating businesses following public health guidelines and safety practices to operate under less stringent conditions. The Mesa County 5 Star program serves as a model for what’s become a statewide effort.

“I’ve been so impressed with the way the chamber has responded to things in the last year,” Powell says.

Business owners and managers also deserve credit for their resilience, providing jobs and contributing to the community, she says. “I see leading a business as a service.”

Moreover, many businesses have been innovative in finding new ways to provide products and services, she says. “In any change or crisis, there is opportunity.”

Powell has been leading Munro Companies for more than a year. She’s worked with her father, Allen Munro, at the company for more than eight years as a vice president.

The operation traces its origin back more than 120 years to the Munro Mercantile stores Fred Munro and his son, J.R., operated in Rifle and other Western Colorado locations. J.R. Munro and his son, Jack, subsequently joined with D.G. Son to open S&M Supply to furnish equipment to mining operations.

The focus of the operation shifted again when Jack and his son, Allen, opened Munro Supply in 1965 to provide pumps and other equipment to move and manage water.

The operation now includes Munro, which manufactures and distributes nationwide pumps, pump stations and accessories. Munro Supply sells and services pumps and other equipment for construction, energy, government, irrigation, mining markets in the Rocky Mountain region. The operation employs a total staff of about 50, Powell says.

While Powell says she grew up in the family business, she didn’t expect to return to Grand Junction or end up working there.

After graduating from Grand Junction High School, she attended Colorado State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in English. She says she believed she wanted to become a professor, but changed her mind.

She moved to New York and says she used the communication skills she developed to work in copy writing and marketing.

Powell married, returned to Colorado, and took as job as marketing manager of CollegeInvest, a division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education that manages college savings programs and offers high school and college students information and resources to manage their finances. Powell subsequently worked four years as director of the CollegeInvest financial education program.

Late in 2012, Powell says she began thinking about another career change — one that would bring her back to Grand Junction and the family business. Her father, she says, was surprised and supportive.

Powell says her father remains involved in the business in product development and improvement as well as an advisor and mentor. “He has just been incredible to work with.”

Munro Companies has experienced different effects from the pandemic, Powell says. Demand has remained strong in some markets, but less so in others. More aggressive efforts to take market share have helped, she says, although uncertainty remains.

The situation is similar for other Grand Valley businesses, but Powell says she’s still upbeat. “I’m very optimistic about economic recovery and growth.”

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce will play an important role in promoting recovery, she says, as will those who show up and care enough to act.

Count Powell among them.

“I love the opportunity to contribute.”