The Greater Bellevue Area Chamber of Commerce tabbed a man with deep roots in the community to be its next leader.
Kevin Hensel officially began as the chamber’s new president and chief executive officer on Sept. 16. He has lived in Bellevue most of his life, graduated from Bellevue West High School, has two degrees from Bellevue University and served on multiple boards of directors for organizations in the community, including the chamber.
Several people from the Bellevue community reached out to him to see if he would be interested in the president role, Hensel said. His involvement in the Bellevue community had been reduced the past few years while he was commuting back and forth to Lincoln where he worked at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, and Hensel felt there was a good opportunity for growth because the city government, Bellevue Public Schools, Offutt Air Force Base and other entities are all growth-minded.
“I just felt it was prime time that the chamber, in collaboration with those community entities, that we were really moving in the same direction and the same philosophy,” he said.
Collaboration will be important, Hensel said, because the chamber doesn’t have legal authority and therefore has to work through and with organizations to foster growth.
“We can all say that we’re in favor of Bellevue growth, but each entity may be going about it completely differently,” Hensel said. “So is there a sense of synergy and collaboration that we can end up making things work more efficiently, more effectively and more quickly?”
The business community has placed a lot of emphasis on the Highway 34 corridor, Olde Towne and Fort Crook Road redevelopment opportunities, but Hensel said it will be important for Bellevue to define its identity so it moves forward toward the best interest of the community and holistic growth.
Any economic initiative will require give and take from competing interests, Hensel said, but collaboration from the whole community will help navigate those differences.
“If we compromise that means someone’s winning, someone’s losing something,” he said. “If we collaborate hopefully we’re coming up with new solutions that are beneficial for everyone.”
Patience will be a virtue, Hensel said, and it will be important to celebrate successes along the way and not get lost in the big picture.
“We want the big picture at the end and we kind of gloss over the steps that we’ve succeeded in accomplishing getting there,” he said.
Diversity is an immediate asset, Hensel said. Offutt brings in people from all over the country, but Hensel pointed to Bellevue’s thriving and multi-ethnic restaurant scene as evidence that diversity goes beyond what the base provides.
He will look for ways to highlight that diversity both within Bellevue and externally, he said.
“I don’t know that we’ve stepped back and said, ‘How can we really appreciate the diversity that is the city and the community of Bellevue?’” he said.