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Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce Hires Kurt Zende as Its Next President

Kurt Zende

WHEELING — Kurt Zende is headed back to a familiar office, albeit in a new role.

The Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce executive board announced Thursday that Zende, who had been with the City of Wheeling since 2005, would become the chamber’s new president. Zende replaces Erikka Storch, who left that role to become executive director of Project BEST.

This isn’t Zende’s first stint with the chamber. He was senior vice president from 1995-2000.

“It just was a natural fit for me, in my opinion,” he said. “I’ve been active in this valley for 30-some years now.

“I’ve had a wonderful time with the city for the last 17 years,” he said, “but I couldn’t pass this opportunity up.”

Zende is well-versed in economic and community development throughout the Ohio Valley, previously holding positions with the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street program in Steubenville, as well as with Wheeling as an economic development specialist.

Among his roles with the city was overseeing the development of Centre Market.

There have been some changes in the job, he said, including with the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced chambers of commerce around the country to pivot and evolve to assist local businesses through downturns. But a lot of programs that were in place in his first go-round remain, though they may have been expanded and added to.

Zende understands the president’s role and what the chamber has to offer in terms of governmental affairs advocacy and economic development.

“I think we’re living in a little different of a world with COVID,” he said, “but that’s not going to last forever. I think my role, from an economic development perspective, I look at what the chamber can do in that role. I think we’ll play more of a part in economic restructuring.”

Part of that, he said, will come in workforce development, bringing the business community together with local colleges and high schools to look at the vocational aspects of things to meet the needs of labor.

The executive committee was happy to see Zende step into the role.

“We are excited to welcome Kurt as our president,” board chair Tanner Russell said. “Kurt comes to us with a long track record in economic development, small business ownership and chamber management.”

Zende believes his Ohio Valley roots and his experience in that landscape will help him hit the ground running in the new job.

“I’ve known everybody for a long time in town,” he said. “I’ve known the major stakeholders in these roles and they know me, and I think we’ll be able to work together in a very productive way.”

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