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Paul Harvel receives top award from national chamber group

story by Michael Tilley
mtilley@thecitywire.com

Paul Harvel’s more than 46 years of work with chambers of commerce in three states –  from Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith to Amarillo – has garnered him the most prestigious award in U.S. chamber circles.

The American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) has announced that Harvel will receive the Life Member Award, the chamber of commerce profession’s highest individual honor. It is bestowed in recognition of a lifetime of business community leadership and service to the association and chamber of commerce profession. The award will be presented to Harvel during ACCE’s national convention, to be held this year in Cincinnati, Aug. 12-15.

Only 42 individuals in the ACCE’s 100-year history have received the award.

“This is pretty neat. It’s the 100 year celebration, and they’ve only given out 42 before this year. ... And I have to tell you I was also pleased that it happened on the first ballot,” Harvel told The City Wire.

Harvel also was quick to deflect praise for the award – an action typical for those who know him.

“I really don’t know why they reached down to me for this. I guess I hung in there longer than they thought I would,” Harvel joked.

Recipients of the Life Member Award are nominated by their peers and selected by the association’s board of directors. Harvel is one of only three Life Member Award honorees in 2014. The Life Member award is earned by those who retire after notable careers in chamber leadership, and are awarded to those who exhibit a “tireless commitment to the profession and their peers, while driving positive change in their organizations and communities,” according to ACCE.

“It is especially poignant to be honoring Paul‘s work and his enduring influence across the nation during this, our centennial year, considering how instrumental he was in the success of ACCE for much of its history,” Mick Fleming, ACCE president, said in a statement.

The other 2014 Life Member honorees are James Anderson who is retiring as the Springfield, Mo., chamber president after 26 years; and Richard Hadley, who served 21 years as head of Spokane, Wash., chamber and economic development group.

HARVEL CHAMBER HISTORY
Harvel began his chamber career in 1967 with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. One of his highlights there included being part of a group that created Pulaski County Technical College, which now has an enrollment of 12,000, four regional locations and a new culinary school.

He left Little Rock after six years to be CEO of the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce. Other chamber jobs included head of the chambers in Enid, Okla., and Midland and Amarillo, Texas.

In 1985 he returned to Little Rock as the chamber CEO.

“The Little Rock Chamber’s total assets rose from $70,000 to over $10 million during his 21-year tenure. He conceptualized and built the Little Rock Regional Chamber’s new home and economic development center. The $8.5 million building was completed in 2001 and paid for in 3-1/2 years. It stands today as one of the nation’s premier chamber and marketing facilities,” noted the ACCE statement.

Following the Little Rock Chamber, Harvel became president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber where he started Leadership Arkansas and in two years saw total income rise from $800,000 to $1.8 million and membership grow from 650 to 1,400.

Harvel was also appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe as a member of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Beebe said the award shows what Arkansas leaders can do.

"Paul has been instrumental in building the leadership class model now used by Chambers statewide and encouraging communities to join forces with our AEDC on economic-development efforts. While we in Arkansas know his achievements, this award showcases what our individual leaders and our communities are capable of accomplishing,” Beebe said.

Harvel closed his chamber career in 2013 at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. In Fort Smith, he was instrumental in securing more than $2 million for a new economic development fund drive.

‘CONTAGIOUS OPTIMISM’
Sam Sicard, president of First National Bank of Fort Smith, was part of the group that brought Harvel to Fort Smith.

“I am extremely pleased Paul Harvel is being appropriately recognized for the tremendous contribution he has made to our state and country for decades. Paul is a true visionary and his contagious optimism gave communities around this state the opportunity to accomplish far more than what many believed possible,” Sicard said.

Craig Rivaldo, former head of Arvest Bank in the Fort Smith area and now head of Arvest Bank in Benton County, worked close with Harvel on the economic development fund drive.

"I have never seen someone who could get in doors and raise money to the extent that Paul could. I believe that is a product of the respect many people have for Paul based on his many years in the chamber business,” Rivaldo said.

Perry Webb, president and CEO of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, said Harvel has been a mentor to him and many other chamber officers around the country. Webb entered chamber work in 1987, and said Harvel has always been there to help or provide guidance. Webb also praised Harvel for his many years of support of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce Executives Association.

“For many years, he supported that out of his (Little Rock chamber) office at no charge to the rest of us,” Webb explained.

Harvel has recently worked with Webb to raise money for the chamber’s strategic initiative fund. Webb said Harvel has called on more than 200 companies to help gather commitments for more than $1.4 million.

“He absolutely deserves it. It is a great honor for him,” Webb said of the ACCE award.

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LEADERSHIP PUSH
Leadership programs were a large part of his chamber career, starting Leadership Enid, Leadership Little Rock in 1985, one of the first programs in the state, and Leadership Arkansas in 2006.

Mike Callan, president of Fort Smith-based Arkansas Oklahoma Gas Corp., was in the first Leadership Arkansas class formed by Harvel and was asked by Harvel to chair the second year of the class. Callan, who is in his final year as board chairman of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, said Harvel’s award is not a surprise.

“Paul Harvel has dedicated his whole life to chamber work and community work. I can’t think of anyone else who is more deserving than Paul Harvel. ... I was really excited when I learned this morning that it came through for him,” Callan said.

Harvel how works part-time for Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross, a Democrat.

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