After eight years at the helm of Edmonds Chamber, Greg Urban reflects on life, fatherhood and the future

Edmonds Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Urban gives last minute instructions to event staff as they prepare for the July 4, 2021 Beat Brackett 5k race.

“There’s no question leaving Edmonds is bittersweet,” Edmonds Chamber President and CEO Greg Urban said as he reflected on his eight-year stint at the helm of the organization. . “I’ve built a fantastic network of friends, business owners, community members. I have accomplished many things of which I am proud. Yeah, it’s hard to leave.

A man of many talents and skills, Urban, 45, currently splits his time between running the house full-time, chairing the board of directors of the South County Fire Commission, running two Airbnb rentals that it operates out of its Norma Beach area. at home and full-time single father to Ehle, his 6-year-old daughter. He will return to his roots by moving to his childhood home in northern Illinois.

Urban helps pick 2020 Clam Chowder Taste-Off winner

But this was no ordinary house.

The Urban family owned, operated and lived in a lakeside resort on idyllic Chain O’Lakes, an hour and a half drive from Chicago, where Greg grew up as an integral part of the management team. family. And it’s still in the family. Greg’s sister, Amanda, continues to run the operation and recently had the opportunity to nearly double in size by purchasing the neighboring complex.

Growing up, Greg was involved in both the practical and business aspects of managing and maintaining cabins, docks, boats, swimming facilities, accounting, account management and all the other duties of running a successful resort business that attracted a steady stream of devotees. visitors. During this time, the young Urban has picked up a pretty amazing set of skills – the kind that can only be learned through practice.

“In addition to day-to-day tasks like plumbing and electrical repairs, I’ve been involved in some pretty major renovations like kitchen and bathroom installations, account management, customer service, and more,” says he. “We did it all ourselves, and a big lesson I learned is that if someone else can do it, I can learn to do it too.”

After earning a degree in biology from the University of Illinois, Greg – whose father was a dentist – worked for a time running a dental supply company. But after years of being an integral part of the family resort business, Urban quickly reached his limits to operate someone else’s business. In 2001, he decided to leave the region and go into business with his brother, who had settled in Puget Sound several years earlier.

“I wanted a change,” Urban explained. “But when I got here, my brother had other things going on, and the idea of ​​going into business together kept coming up, so after a few months I decided to go it alone.”

He started with property management, using the various skills he had acquired working in the resort industry. Soon he was managing over 100 units in the college district.

The 2000s brought rapid advancements in technology, and Urban’s natural curiosity drove him to learn new skills and seek out opportunities to use them. He was particularly drawn to the way photography and graphic design opened up to anyone with a computer.

“I had a friend in the graphic design field and started working with him in the early 2000s,” he recalls. “This branched out to include a photography/video business, and for the next seven years we focused on event coverage such as corporate events and weddings. Our approach was unique in that we were able to shoot, edit and produce our video on location the same day, essentially doing all the traditional post-production work as part of the shoot itself. This meant editing video clips on the fly, putting them together and presenting a final product to the client the same day. We had a few teams working for us and we were covering 60-80 events a year. It could get pretty frantic, but no one else was doing it back then.

But the pace was frantic, and around 2010 Urban decided to stop covering weddings and events and focus more on his own freelance graphic design and property management businesses.

Now an independent local business leader, he joined the Chamber in 2010.

Urban congratulates Brian Hanchett (aka George Bracket) at the end of the Beat Brackett 5K run on July 4, 2019.

“I went to networking lunches, got to know people and was drawn to volunteering,” he recalls. “At first it was mainly for graphic design, websites, posters, etc., but I quickly included membership in the membership committee. Then, in 2012, I was invited to join the chamber’s board of directors.

He went on to explain that at the time, the chamber had staffing and management issues, which eventually led to the decision of the council to no longer be a governing body, which reviewed and decided on the day-to-day operations of the chambers. , becoming a policy board that would provide overall direction, but provide day-to-day operational authority to a President/CEO.

“It took day-to-day tasks out of the hands of the council,” he explained. “Part of that restructuring included replacing the executive director – who needed the board to approve everything he wanted to do – with a CEO who had the power to run things on the ground.”

Of course, Urban threw his hat in the ring. One of 40 candidates for CEO, he ended up as one of two finalists. While the board initially hired the other nominee, that person resigned only four months after taking office, and in May 2014 the board officially hired Urban as president and CEO of the chamber.

“My first day on the job was Cinco de Mayo, 2014,” he recalls with a laugh.

“It was hard to take over,” Urban explained. “The chamber’s finances needed to be reviewed and restructured – the books had not been reconciled for three years – so we needed a proper CPA. The membership lists were also problematic and always included members who had already dropped out but were still on the lists, some who hadn’t paid their dues – it really needed to be cleaned up. We were also paying for many services that we weren’t using – for example, we were actually paying more for the rent for our office photocopier than we were paying for renting our office space.

In his first 18 months on the job, Urban approached these issues with what he describes as “an entrepreneurial mindset,” focusing on “cleaning up things that needed fixing” and bringing back the organization on a solid base with a solid understanding of membership and finances.

“After about 18 months we were back to a level situation with numbers that I was proud of,” he added. “With what we saved by cutting unnecessary expenses, we were able to hire an additional full-time employee, increase salaries, and even add medical and dental benefits.”

Looking back on his eight years in the House, Urban considers this “general tightening of the ship” the accomplishment of which he is most proud.

With the chamber back on an even keel, Urban again felt the need to seek out new challenges and set up his antennae for something to fill that need.

“I started thinking about the political office,” he explained. “But living in unincorporated Snohomish County, I was a little limited in what I could race for. In 2019, a spot appeared on the South County Fire Board of Commissioners and I applied. I won by 34 votes out of more than 32,000 votes, without active campaigning or spending. I was elected president in 2021, and again in 2022.”

Many also remember Urban’s role in keeping the chamber afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, which required two staff members to be temporarily furloughed after many chamber events were canceled. In a press release announcing Urban’s departure, Edmonds’ chamber board noted his “consistent, insightful and determined leadership,” which has helped the chamber weather “the past few years of pandemic shutdowns.” . Through Urban’s work, the board said, the chamber “has grown strong, as a community resource and touchstone for commerce in the town of Edmonds.”

Late last year, Urban’s divorce was finalized, giving him custody of his daughter Ehle. He takes his role as a father very seriously, and he freely admits that Ehle is now “the main focus of my life”.

Urban with his daughter Ehle at the House Clam Chowder Taste-Off event, February 2018.

“I spend as much time as possible with Ehle these days,” he added. “I want to spend more, but being full time in the chamber, chairing the fire commission and running two Airbnbs away from home, my time is limited. I feel like it’s time for a change that will allow me to spend more time with her.

He gave notice to both the chamber and the fire commission earlier this year, and he and Ehle are set to move this summer to Illinois, where he and his extended family will unite to manage their growing resort.

And in typical Greg Urban fashion, he’s already thinking about ways to increase the family business. He hopes to strike a deal soon after his arrival to buy additional lakeside property with three houses that will both give him a place to live and be another jewel in the family’s crown of lakeside resorts.

“It’s hard for me to leave, but at the end of the day, family is important,” he explained. “Helping to run and grow the station will have its challenges, but I can collaborate with my family, and Ehle will be part of that.

“I’m really looking forward to teaching Ehle how to fish — including ice fishing in the winter — snowmobiling, boating, swimming, all that stuff,” he added. “It’s what I did as a kid, and it really shaped my character and my understanding of the world.”

Urban plans to stay with the chamber through Edmonds Kind of Fourth July 4 activities.

The council announced a replacement. The application period closed on June 3 and interviews will take place soon.

The chamber invites all to join them for a send-off gala for Greg at 4 p.m. June 21 at the Salish Sea Brewing Company Boathouse, 180 W. Dayton St. in the Harbor Square business complex.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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