The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce today announced it has named Laura Huffman as President and CEO. Huffman will replace long-time Chamber leader Mike Rollins, who announced his plans to retire last year.
“Laura is taking the reins at a moment of profound and unprecedented economic challenges facing the greater Austin area, and her talent, experience, and innovative spirit will be essential to helping us navigate these uncertain economic times and lead our community toward recovery and a prosperous future,” said Craig Enoch, Board Chair of the Austin Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Enoch Kever law firm. “Laura is a proven and forward-thinking leader who is well regarded throughout the Austin community and has a keen understanding of local, state, and national business and policy. She is a great choice to lead the Chamber.”
Huffman, who will officially start on April 20, comes to the position from The Nature Conservancy, where she served as Texas’ state director. During that time, she was a leading statewide voice in bringing together businesses and community-based land and water preservation organizations to help preserve our communities’ natural resources. She was nationally recognized for her work creating the Nature Conservancy’s Cities Program. Huffman also served as assistant city manager in both Austin and San Marcos. While in Austin, she negotiated Austin’s 100-year water deal with the Lower Colorado River Authority, led contract negotiations with public safety unions, and worked to modernize the city’s economic development agenda.
Huffman’s experience will allow her to hit the ground running, leveraging the Chamber’s economic expertise — and working with its unparalleled network of innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders — to support the community through the pandemic and assist the economic restart.
“Now more than ever, our community needs to come together — and as soon as the threat of the coronavirus passes, our people will need to get back to work, and our businesses will need to reopen their doors. No one is better positioned to help achieve these goals than the Chamber,” Huffman said. “It’s an honor to be asked to lead this organization at this critical time. We’ll do all we can to lift up our people, restore the jobs, rebuild the businesses, and reinvigorate the communities that make Central Texas special.”
The Chamber’s outgoing President and CEO, Mike Rollins, said, “It’s been my pleasure to work with Laura on countless issues on which her expertise and leadership helped make Austin a better place. I’m grateful that this organization — and the rest of the city — will benefit from her talents.”
Brian Cassidy, the immediate past Board Chair of the Chamber and the current Managing Partner of the Austin office of Locke Lord, LLP, led the search committee that resulted in Huffman’s selection. Cassidy said, “We were fortunate to have national interest in this position, and we had some incredibly talented candidates to consider. But Laura stood out. She is energized by the hard problems, knows this region’s issues, and has a rare talent for bringing together the diverse talents required to solve them.”
“When the Chamber was crafting a new and innovative economic development program in response to the severe downturn in the 2001-2003 era, Laura proved to be a critical player in developing a robust economic development policy at the City of Austin. Laura was a thoughtful and strategic partner as we launched Opportunity Austin. Thankfully, Laura will again be in a critical position to help address new challenges for workers and businesses alike,” said Gary Farmer, Chairman of Opportunity Austin and President of Heritage Title Company of Austin, Inc.
With an extensive background leading large organizations, Huffman will work with the Chamber’s staff, Executive Committee, Board Members, and other volunteers to support programs and policies that make greater Austin businesses thrive and enable their employees to prosper. Helping the region respond to and recover from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be a top priority, along with seeking solutions to challenges such as job creation, transportation, workforce development, and homelessness, as well as opportunities that range from military innovation to health care reinvention.
“Laura has been an asset in this community for so long, it’s honestly hard to imagine where we’d be without her,” said state Senator Kirk Watson, who served as Austin’s mayor from 1997-2001. “She’s smart, kind and creative. She’s willing to listen to new ideas and think differently. She cares about people and understands how they’ve been hit by this crisis. She’s exactly the kind of person Austin needs in this position at this unprecedented point in its history. She’s a first-rate leader.”
The Chamber is a nonprofit membership organization with a mission of helping to create jobs so people can find work and provide for their families. It invests in a broad range of programs that build, support, and diversify Austin’s regional economy. We are the Chamber – our mission is prosperity.
Huffman's headshot can be downloaded here.