Chamber head seeks new relationships

Roger Sosa began work last week as the new executive director of the Evanston Chamber of  Commerce with a vow to establish relationships with many organizations in town as he attempts to breathe new life into an organization charged with improving the environment for Evanston businesses.

Sosa, 60, was formerly president of the Buffalo Grove Lincolnshire chamber and says his biggest accomplishment there was repairing relationships with that chamber’s village governments.

The son of doctors from Cuba, Sosa considers himself lucky to have been born in this country while his father was finishing up his medical residency at a hospital in Peoria.

The youngest of four boys, he grew up in Germantown, just east of St. Louis, where he confesses to have been “a rabid fan” of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.

No stranger to Evanston, Sosa speaks fondly about his years as a student at Northwestern University, where he received a degree in political science and economics. His Masters of Business Administration degree is from the University of Washington in Seattle, and he and his wife lived in the Los Angeles area for 11 years before moving to Highland Park after their first child was born.

Back in the Chicago area, he managed a division of 25 people in six states for Ameritech until that company merged with AT&T and his job disappeared, which led him to a career in non-profit management.

“I felt it was time for me to use my skills helping other people,” he said.

He joined the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council in Chicago. As director of commercial development, he worked closely with people developing new businesses in the community, such as barbershops and restaurants and “turning worms into compost,” he said.

In Buffalo Grove, he inherited a chamber whose membership was “in free fall.”

He managed to stop that, he said, and put the organization on a growth path.

“Another thing I did there,” he said, “was to reduce their reliance on dues revenue.”

When the economy takes a dive, he noted, “one of the first things businesses drop is their memberships. So I endeavored to put together a series of programs, such as credit card processing, where the chamber gets a cut of the revenue.”

He admitted, however, that he left a long list of things to get done, but didn’t.

At the outset of the interview, Sosa apologized that his desk was so clean, but promised that if we came back a few weeks later, there would be a number of piles of papers representing new projects for the chamber.

While the Evanston chamber is not a turnaround candidate like Buffalo Grove, he said, there are a number of opportunities for membership growth, forming partnerships and relationships, creating non-dues revenue, working with other chambers, raising perceptions, identifying business gaps, utilizing social media, and working with millennials.

"We have this major brain trust coming out of Northwestern each year. Let's keep some of them in Evanston," he said.

The upshot is that leaders in city government, Northwestern University, the public school districts, the YMCA and YWCA, Cradle to Career, the Evanston Community Foundation, the media, trade associations, community organizations, and the hundreds of business organizations based in Evanston ought to be prepared for a call from Evanston's new chamber executive.

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