Chris Eckert leads Eckerts Inc. in Belleville and now the board of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce as its president.
He follows in his father's and grandfather's footsteps as a member of the Chamber and leader of the Belleville orchard. Chris Eckert recently sat down to talk with business writer Will Buss about his new role:
How did you get your start with the Chamber?
"I've been on the board of the chamber for quite a few years, for the past five or six years. I started on the executive team three years ago and you go through chairs, start as treasurer, vice president, president-elect. So once you get asked to serve in that capacity by the executive team, you kind of have a process laid out for you for the next few years. Then, I'll serve another year as past president once my term as president is over. I officially started my term as president at the end of December. It's a one-year term."
How has your family served the Chamber in the past?
"I don't have any memories of it. I don't really know for the sure the dates. My dad (Lary Eckert) was in it in the mid '80s and my grandfather (Curt Eckert) would have been I think late '60s."
Why did you join the Chamber?
"It's a tradition in my family to be actively engaged in the community, so it's very normal in that regard. I was in Rotary and involved in the Chamber on the periphery. I was asked to serve six years ago after my dad was off the Chamber of Commerce board. The Eckerts have always been fortunate to serve in the community with the Chamber and other organizations like Belle-Scott, which my dad is still a member of the Belle-Scott Committee. It's kind of a tradition in our family to engage in community activities like that."
What goals do you have as president of the board?
"I'm excited about the branding initiative that we started last year. We're developing a new branding identity for the City of Belleville. It's something that the Chamber has undertaken and I'm the chair of that committee, so I have some ownership of that and I am excited about what it can do for our community in identifying us. I think more recently what is very important for us in the long term is Scott Air Force Base's future. With the defense climate that we have today and the cutbacks in government spending, we have to be extremely diligent and proactive about making sure Scott is perceived positively in Washington and that there is a very good understanding of the good collaborative relationship that our communities have with Scott Air Force Base and make sure that it stays as a big productive part of our economic base."
What does Belleville have to offer business?
"There are two parts to that. As a resident of Belleville and then as a business operator in Belleville, Belleville's got a great resource of labor. It's got a very proactive city government that is working with business and is trying to bring business into the community. I think Belleville has a great location in terms of its proximity to St. Louis and the other big economic anchor, which is Scott Air Force Base. On the labor end of things, we have two higher education facilities (Southwestern Illinois College and Lindenwood University) now in our community, which brings in a lot of young people and good resources for hiring. From a resident's perspective, Belleville has a soul, it has a downtown, it has a historic story to tell that a lot of new neighborhood communities don't have. That's a benefit. We have the benefit of some old housing stock and old architecture that the 'McMansion' neighborhoods don't have. So that makes Belleville kind of diverse as to what it can offer, a very broad group of people."
What are you goals as a business owner?
"Obviously, having a long history puts a lot of importance in me for continuing. I want to see a legacy continue with Eckerts. Our business is as successful as a community is successful, so that's been the perspective of my fore fathers. We're going to do our best to make our business successful, but it's going to be more successful if we're working hard to make the community successful. Coming from the professional position that I'm in and a long family legacy business, our most important goal is the next generation. We want to pass this to the next generation, this business, this community, this town, and position it to be better for them than it was for us."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.