by Nancy Duffy, photography by Bill Ryan
It is difficult to catch up with a man who is always on the move. From the South Hills of Pittsburgh, Pa. to the “small town that just feels like home,” Gary Laird has given new life to Hanover’s Chamber of Commerce. This nationally recognized chapter, which is in constant motion under his leadership, has helped second- and third-generation businesses, as well as new businesses, thrive in the Hanover area.
After earning his degree in political science from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and spending time in the utility business, this Hanover-area resident of 25 years works hard and thinks smarter.
What led you to be President of the Chamber? I always had an interest in community development work and when I had the opportunity to pursue a career change, I joined the Hanover Chamber in 2002. The interesting part [about this job] is that one day we are helping to set up historic markers, the next working on the apprenticeship program, or putting the finishing touches on the very successful Snack Town Brewfest held at the end of June, or working on a signature event such as Dutch Festival. We do not receive grants. This is a stand-alone operation, with budgets, and we are constantly thinking of ways to generate funds.
How have the three tenets of the Chamber – Business. Community. Commitment. – impacted Hanover and its residents over the last year and how does it play into Hanover’s future? We exist for businesses and the community. There is some level of value for all of those businesses. We help develop initiatives. For smaller businesses, we have discounts on healthcare options, networking opportunities; relationships develop and we are a source of advocacy for the businesses. [We are] a group that is willing to try new directions with the Chamber all of the time. We go to conferences and meetings nationally and we are unique in that we can get involved in everything. We look for opportunities that other organizations don’t have the means or capabilities to take on – and we are going to take them on.
Our ideas come from the businesses in the community. If we are not aligned, then we won’t have them as a member for very long. We have some businesses who have been members for 50-plus years; they are invested but not active and still others who are very active in their participation.
What are your top 3 best moments as Chamber President? In 2014, we were recognized as a 5-star Chamber of Commerce. To put that in perspective, there are only 3% of all of the Chambers in the country that have achieved a 5-star rating. It is a way to measure yourself. It is a six-month voluntary process which includes evaluations, back-up documents, etc. We are critiqued on everything from use of technology to resources. In 2009, we were a 4-star, then most recently a 5-star. I am proud of that and proud of the staff. We operate with 4 full-time people.
I am also proud of the Main Street initiative. It was such a large undertaking. Every time I see a new happening, it is just rewarding to see all of individuals who had a part in it. Justine [Trucksess], the Main Street manager since 2015, does a fantastic job, and we work closely with her. We found ways to inspire all aspects of downtown and it continues to grow.
The school-to-work program has just been become the first chamber apprenticeship model program in the state to be approved by the Department of Labor and Industry. It is rewarding for young people see what their futures may hold for them and what their next step can be. We have a great partnership with four local companies on this project: KLK Welding, Utz Quality Foods, Inc., Elsner Engineering Works, Inc., and R.H. Sheppard Co., Inc. With manufacturing jobs making up 20% of the workforce in the area, these companies provide support to Hanover High School and Southwestern High School, whose students will have the opportunity to segue into the workforce with a full apprenticeship post-graduation.
If someone is passing through Hanover, or making it his/her destination, what is a ‘must do’ before leaving? There are plenty of destination stops right here in Hanover. For those who love history and the Civil War, there is the Battle of Hanover, which was a part of the Gettysburg campaign. The monument sits off the square. There is a plan in place to work with the York County Convention Center regarding this battle and also include it in Destination Gettysburg. It was a small part of the Civil War and a best-kept secret. There is the Neas House [located at West Chestnut and High Streets, which] brings its own Southern history to the area. The Warehime-Myers Mansion is also a great place to visit and listen to the concerts on the lawn. There are too many great places in Hanover to mention.
How do you de-stress or unwind after a challenging day? I work out. In fact, I run all over town. There are very few streets that I have not been on. I ran my first Boston Marathon in April 2017. It took me three years to get in. I would like to complete the Big 5 marathons: Boston, New York, Chicago, London, and Berlin. Training is specific for a marathon. I follow a very structured 18-week training schedule, and I run 6 days a week when I am training for a marathon. The fact that I am maintaining a healthy lifestyle and challenging myself physically and mentally is rewarding and motivating.
Favorite food/movie/TV show/book? I love sports, so anything sports-related. I always like to root for the underdog, so for movies I like Rocky or Rudy. I wish I had more time to read, but I do like John Grisham.
If other people had to describe you using three adjectives, what adjectives would they choose? Passionate. Motivated. Innovative.