In July, Greater Omaha Chamber President and CEO David Brown announced that he will retire in 2022 after leading the Chamber since 2003. As he begins to wrap up his professional responsibilities, Brown reflected on his Chamber career, the local business community, and his life in Omaha.
Q. What Greater Omaha Chamber accomplishments during your tenure are you most proud of?
A. We’ve had a huge role to play in making sure the economy kept growing. The GDP (gross domestic product for the metropolitan area) has grown 88 percent since 2003, wages have gone up significantly, there have been more than $12 billion in capital investments, and there are almost a thousand projects that we’ve done, 47,000 jobs, and almost 500 new companies to the market.
But I think some of the work I’m most proud of is the work that we’ve done in the community. As an example, most of the folks don’t understand the role that we’ve played in helping to shape how K-12 education is measured in the state. When I first got here, the standardized testing that was done across the state was different in every district, so you couldn’t compare schools in one district to another… The business community, led by the Chamber, went down to the Legislature and got that changed… That was a huge, huge undertaking to get that done but I think the impact it had on the quality of education around here was dramatic.
In more recent times, the Greater Omaha 2040 Plan might be the thing that will have the longest-ranging impact on the community. This was developed in 2017 in partnership with the United Way and the Urban League and (many) other people, trying to figure out what Omaha could be by 2040.
Q. Do you feel you’re leaving with any unfinished business?
A. That the Chamber agenda is going to continue on its path over the next decade is really important and I don’t see the Chamber dropping the ball on some of the things I have identified. It might be unfinished now but it’s not going to be dropped. It just takes time to get some of these big issues done.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge during your tenure at Greater Omaha Chamber?
A. Sometimes our desire to do great things exceeds our bandwidth. It’s tough to turn down big, cool projects, but…you have to pick and choose… There are so many great things that could get done. And there are so many things that are crucial and that you have to get done; you have to do those things first and then start moving on to the others.
Q. How do you want to be remembered after you retire from the Chamber next year?
A. Hopefully, they’d think that I was a good leader, that I could work with just about anybody and tried to get the right thing done every time.
Q. Just for fun: How many other David Browns have you met in your lifetime?
A. It might only be half a dozen or so that I’ve met, but I’ve known about hundreds in the different communities I’ve been in. There was one place where the mayor of one city was David White and the mayor of the other city was David Black, and of course, I’m David Brown—so whenever we’d show up for ribbon-cuttings, it would be ‘The David White, David Black, and David Brown Show.’
Q. What would you like to say about your family?
A. My wife Maggie is the ultimate partner. We met back in the early ‘80s and were married about six months after we met and have been together almost 40 years now. She has been behind me every step of the way.
My sons are 27 and 37. They’re both here in Omaha. Elijah, 27, is an aspiring opera singer and just got his master’s in opera performance at the University of Alabama. And Greg, 37, finished his master’s degree in marketing and is in marketing at the UNMC School of Public Health… I’m really proud of both of them.
Q. What else would you like to say?
A. Chambers, by virtue of our membership, tend to have members all over the political spectrum but most of them congregated around the middle… I think chambers are uniquely positioned to make a difference in communities by just recognizing that we are supposed to be building those communities and that business organizations are great places to get that done.