Through a Different Lens: Veta Jeffery Thriving as Greater Omaha Chamber President

It’s been a little over half a year since Veta Jeffery joined the Greater Omaha Chamber as president and CEO, succeeding David Brown upon his retirement from the position after nearly 20 years. These past seven months have been as interesting as they have been busy, Jeffery said. 

“I have had a wonderful experience. Running a chamber is a big job, but it’s a job that encompasses so many fascinating parts,” she said. “I tell people I get to drink from a firehose in a way that some days is turned on full force, and some days is a slow trickle. The great thing is, I love everything about what I get to do.”

The St. Louis native came to the Chamber with ample experience including serving by Governor Jay Nixon’s appointment as manager of community economic development for the State of Missouri. Jeffery’s accomplishments included helping to establish workforce development programs for underserved communities, helping to form the Governor’s Fellows Program that provides internships for disadvantaged college students in Missouri, organizing a workforce summer program for youths, and developing programming and events for businesses to grow capacity and increase diversity through training and hiring initiatives.

As a native Midwesterner, Jeffery’s adjustment to life in Omaha has been smooth so far, she said. 

“From the research I did during my interview, I was able to learn a lot about the wonderful things happening in and around Omaha. What you can’t read in stories or [when] talking about development projects is capturing the essence of the people. And I think the biggest thing that I’ve noticed in the time since I’ve been here is that the people really are a great part of the story,” she said. 

Veta Jeffery, president and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber. (Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)
Veta Jeffery, president and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber. (Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)

“I have been welcomed on so many levels. And I’ve had a lot of great, thoughtful conversations around the work that’s been done, and the hope of what Omaha looks like tomorrow. That’s exciting. But I’m just really, really encouraged by the people that I’ve had a chance to meet and the conversations we get to have; whether they’re thought-provoking or whether we’re having great laughs, I just think Omaha is great people.” 

Jeffery also praised Omaha’s public-private partnerships and the philanthropic community as well as development taking place throughout the city. 

“I think that part of our assets are the tangible pieces in the development of the urban core, the work that’s being done on the riverfront, the Luminarium, the Gene Leahy Mall, the Steelhouse — I feel like I could go on and on. The zoo, which is a beautiful attraction, and just having an opportunity to feed the giraffes and see all that the aquarium offers. I just think Omaha has so many wonderful assets. And I get to learn even more every day; the more I’m experiencing people, the more I’m finding out that there is a great community and great culture here.”

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Omaha isn’t without its challenges, Jeffery said, but she strives to keep them in perspective. 

“I hear a lot of talk about ‘brain drain.’ But I just want to make us aware that all communities experience ‘brain drain,’ the flight of young professionals wanting to go, spread their wings, and experience the unknown … those who leave here to go find the bigger, brighter, more fun, more entertaining, ‘whatever’ other cities seem to offer,” she said, adding that the community’s focus should be on attracting those young people back after they’ve had their experience away from their hometown. 

“The other thing is, just like Omaha is concerned that the young professionals here go to look to other cities, there are other cities experiencing that same thing. So, if we can focus also on making sure that when those other young professionals are looking for places to go, that our messaging is one that says they’re welcome here — that our messaging says this is a great place to live, a great place to work, great place to live and to do business — then it won’t be as much of a concern, because that revolving door tends to fill itself up.”

As the first woman and first person of color to lead the Chamber, Jeffery certainly brings a new point of view to the position of president and CEO. She also has a different leadership style than her predecessor. 

“I think that David and I bring two different perspectives to the conversation; we probably can look at the same situation and approach it differently,” Jeffery said.

Jeffery also has unique and powerful career experience. For instance, she was credited for helping rebuild the business community in and around Ferguson, Missouri, and throughout the St. Louis region as the state’s manager of community economic development. Governor Jay Nixon formed the Office of Community Engagement following the Ferguson protests of 2014. The unrest had occurred in response to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a Black 18-year-old, by police officer Darren Wilson. 

“I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to lead in my career and I feel like that has prepared me for the work that I get to do here in Omaha. I feel like my experiences serving at the behest of the Missouri governor behind Ferguson helped me look through life with the word ‘perspective,’ because one of the things that we had to do to come out of the unrest — that put St. Louis on the map in a way it never wanted to be — was because for most of the people involved, at first it came with a myopic view of understanding only their view of how things look or how things happen,” she said. 

“But then, in the position to engage in conversations, to recognize that all of us have different upbringings, all of us have different needs. All of us have had different exposures and experiences, whether it’s different foods, different habits that we form, different ways that our parents raised us or instilled values on us. All of us bring different perspectives to the table.”

“But once we get together and start having conversations about that, we find that we are more alike than we are different. So, I think one of the greatest things that I like to think I bring — in addition to being skilled in economic development and financial management and business development, having been a business owner, and then having held office — is perspective and the opportunity for us to engage in looking at life through a different lens.”

And now she’s poised to look ahead, Jeffery said.

“I’ve been able to do a lot of listening, a lot of learning, which will go a long way in helping to shape the direction that the Chamber will take in 2023,” she said. “In meeting with the leaders in the community, I see our focus definitely has to be on making certain we think outside the box and have an intentional drive on attracting and retaining talent. I think making certain that our messaging is clear that Nebraska really is a place for everyone, and that Omaha is open for everyone, is something that we as business owners and business leaders have to do.”

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