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Jack Llewellyn: Glue of Durango’s business community

Chamber of Commerce director has deep local roots that help boost bottom lines
Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce, in his office, says smiles go a long way in the business world.

Jack Llewellyn came to Durango, sight unseen, in 1982 to attend Fort Lewis College. Now, he is likely the first face outsiders, newcomers and up-and-coming business owners associate with Durango.

“I worked in a feed store in Golden, and my old boss asked where are you going to apply (to college),” he said.

Llewellyn mentioned Adams State, Western State (now called Western Colorado) and Mesa State. His boss, Dean Irby, had little praise for any of them but recommended FLC.

“He said, ‘You’ll love it. It’s in Southwestern Colorado. It’s beautiful.’ He was right,” Llewellyn said.

Durango has been his home since registering as an FLC freshman.

After bouncing around with majors, finally getting his degree in English communications “on the five-year plan,” he began his working career in 1988 as the morning deejay for KDGO-AM 1240 in Durango. When his show ended, he hit the pavement selling advertising.

Llewellyn spent the next 12 years in radio in Durango and Farmington – he still has a radio show on KDGO – before moving on to serve as the chief fundraiser for the FLC athletics department, which included serving as the chief fundraiser when the school won its first soccer national championship in 2005.

A little-known fact that pleases Llewellyn is that he’s in the FLC Athletics Hall of Fame, not for any feat on the playing field but for raising money for its athletes.

In 2007, he was hired to lead Durango’s Chamber of Commerce.

His wife, Cherie Morris, formerly owned Durango Olive Oil Co. and ran it for four years before selling it. She has a new company, Branding Promotions, that provides promotional items, such as T-shirts, mugs, pens and now face masks and personal protection equipment, with company logos and brands.

Ed Kileen, chief financial officer with Grassburger, said it’s Llewellyn’s depth of knowledge about Durango’s business community that made him an asset when he and his wife, Jessie, decided to open their first restaurant in Durango in 2014.

“He’s somebody who raised his family here.,” Kileen said. “He understands the community, the diversity of the community, and its needs. It allows him to promote the community in a balanced and nuanced way that would be impossible if you hadn’t lived her for a while. I think that’s what makes Jack unique.”

When the Kileens were opening Grassburger, Kileen said Llewellyn reached out to them early on asking how he could help.

Kileen mentioned Grassburger would like to get into catering.

Llewellyn connected the couple with people in the catering business, he hired them to cater a Business After Hours meeting and then he interviewed the Grassburger team on his radio show.

“It was really fantastic to have somebody like that in the community, who not just understands the community but is willing to go that extra mile and seek people out to help businesses like ours succeed,” he said.

The fact that Llewellyn’s wife runs a small business, Kileen said, makes Llewellyn especially well-versed in understanding the needs of small businesses.

“With all the realities of starting a small business anywhere, it can be a pretty daunting task, but you know he helped connect us to people that made the process much smoother than it would have been. Otherwise, we would have spent a lot more time just kind of floating out there on our own,” he said.

Llewellyn credits the veteran team at the chamber – Rita Simon, Jennifer Dickens and Peggy McCulloch – for making the organization especially adept at meeting the needs of its business clients.

“I have an old roommate from FLC, Jess Lopez from Nucla, who’s been with John Deere tractors for 30 years, and he gave me the best advice on management: Hire good people who will make you look good, and your job is remove any barriers that stand in their way,” he said.

Eric Eicher, president of Alpine Bank in Durango, said a well-run chamber of commerce is the glue of a town’s business community – the organization where businesses can get help with critical issues, can find a voice to speak up for them politically and can help with networking.

“Historically, chambers bring businesses together that might be competing to create synergies that make the town more vibrant, and I think that’s something Jack really does,” he said.

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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