Amber Smith

Amber Smith was selected as the first female president and CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber. She is pictured alongside her husband, Robert.

Amber Smith sat in her husband’s truck in the White Mountains on a cold October morning. The 4 a.m. start didn’t bother her as much as the nine-mile hike to pack out the elk her husband had shot. She’d already done it once, and she didn’t want to do it again.

She was glad to reconnect with the outside world, reading emails on her phone while her husband and a friend returned to retrieve the rest of the elk. That’s when she noticed two does cross the road to a pond on the other side. 

She grabbed her rifle, radioed her husband and began to investigate. A city girl growing up in Houston, Smith was never a big fan of guns. Her husband, Tucson Fire Captain Robert Smith, grew up hunting.

“I could hear his eyes roll as he told me to be careful,” Smith said.

She crouched by the pond and spotted a bull elk in the tree line across the meadow, 200 yards out. She didn’t have a tag for bull elk, so that didn’t do her much good. But then she noticed the cow elk behind him.

“Sure enough, I aim, I shoot, 200 yards, and she drops immediately,” she said.

It was her first kill.

“Because I like to work smarter and not harder, it was very convenient I killed her on the side of the road,” she said.

As the first woman to be chosen as the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce president, Smith brings initiative, enthusiasm and determination to the job.

Though she considers herself somewhat of an outsider to the chamber community, her public service has echoed across Tucson since she first arrived to attend the University of Arizona in 1996. Smith has been the Metropolitan Pima Alliance CEO since 2010, where she has been a vocal element in helping the city address issues of metal theft, sign code and economic development.

“I don’t come from the chamber world,” she said. “I come from the business world in real estate and land use.”

Inside Tucson Business spotted Smith in 2012 as one of 20 women of influence in Tucson for her work at MPA, where she caught the attention of Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.

He was impressed, not only with her passion and energy, but how vocal she was in revising the city’s sign code and her creation of the Common Ground Award given to community leaders for collaboration efforts.

He looks forward to the precision of the ideas she brings to the table, something he said public officials need.

“I think it’s important that we have someone who knows the community as a whole and also has worked within the business community,” Rothschild said. “I think she will be someone who knows how to collaborate.”

Besides the weather and Tucson’s natural environment, Smith appreciates the friendliness and level of support the community provides.

Her passion extends to volunteer roles, such as heading the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance to support the region’s six military bases and sitting on the DM50 board to advocate for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

The various roles Smith has filled have helped her develop relationships with “the big players,” both public and private, in many of Tucson’s business initiatives, which she said will help in her approach to controversial issues.

“I can see it from an outsider’s perspective of what the chamber is working on,” she said.

The common thread throughout all her involvement has been collaboration, and the resulting network of those efforts has helped land her in her new role.

“That’s the critical element in moving our community forward,” said Metro Chamber Board Chair Larry Lucero of Tucson Electric Power, who helped choose Smith as the next president.

The chamber worked with search firm Waverly Partners to scout Smith from a pool of hundreds of candidates with leadership experience in sale, membership and advocacy.

“We picked a talent here, close to home, because it met all of our needs,” Lucero said.

With her experience in MPA and as committee chair for the Citizens Accountability for Regional Transportation Authority, Lucero looks forward to Smith bringing her perspective to tackling the chamber’s agendas on infrastructure and workforce development.

“I’ve been on a peripheral watching some of these things and have been wanting to engage in a meaningful way on some of these issues,” Smith said. “Now I get to, from the top.”

One of the issues she sees is the repeated implementation of sales tax to pay for infrastructure development. The chamber is involved in a sales tax committee currently in the process of vetting alternative solutions. 

Smith has already begun approaching problem from her position as vice chair on the Pima County Transportation Oversight Committee.

She also intends to consolidate efforts in workforce development, “partnering when appropriate and filling the gaps when necessary” with the UA, Pima Community College, Arizona State University and JTED programs. The other side, she said, is attracting outside talent.

Additionally, Smith wants to focus on growing Tucson’s small businesses, beginning with a town hall she hopes to hold within the next few months.

Smith spearheaded part of a seven-point plan for the chamber’s Project Prosperity, aimed at removing barriers to business in Tucson. She brought a list of solutions, county models and relationships with elected officials for use in the initiative, said friend and colleague Barbi Reuter, the chamber board’s vice chair and president of PICOR Community Real Estate Services.

“She’s solution and action oriented,” Reuter said. “She looks for the common ground and tries to help bring people together.”

All of which, Reuter said, contribute to the vision Smith brings to the chamber presidency.

“She has the best interest of the community at heart,” she said.

That community focus, Reuter said, helped form the basis for their friendship as both have been active in community advocacy and improvement, as well as taking part in what she calls the “genderational” change she sees occurring in many organizations.

“It’s just more about having diverse interests and perspectives at the table,” Reuter said.

A self-described workaholic, Smith doesn’t find much downtime between raising her three sons and pursing her passion for community. Her biggest concern is that things won’t happen as quickly as she wants them to.

When she does have downtime, Smith either finds herself tending to her three goats on her small ranch near Oro Valley, or reading paranormal fiction and books on leadership.

“For me, working is fun,” she said. “I don’t know how to relax—it doesn’t suit my personality at all. You’ll never find me taking a nap, you’ll never find me lounging on the couch watching TV.”

Smith’s constant ambition has led to her involvement in a preponderance of initiatives and working relationships. The results of which made her a clear choice for the chamber.

 “Not to overuse the ‘collaboration’ word, but I think that was key in why we hired her,” Reuter said, “because we have so much opportunity for organizations to collaborate more and we didn’t think there was anybody better to lead that.”