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Gary Troutman

New Chamber CEO passionate about Hot Springs, education

By Sam Pierce

This article was published September 10, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.

Ally Rotundo

Gary Troutman, the new president and CEO of the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce and Hot Springs Metro Partnership, glows whenever he talks about his hometown of Hot Springs.

Troutman will begin in his new position Sept. 18.

“Having grown up in Hot Springs, it was almost a calling, if you will,” Troutman said. “My dad was a small-business man in Hot Springs, my grandfather before him and my uncle. They were all small-business people here. And I have always had a special place in my heart, not only for Hot Springs, but the plight of a small-business person.

“It just seemed like a natural fit for me.”

James Montgomery, chairman of the Hot Springs Metro Partnership, said Troutman’s affection for the area is obvious.

“He loves Hot Springs,” Montgomery said. “His grandfather had a barber shop; his dad had a tire shop. He truly loves it. We have had some good folks, but there is something special about Gary. It has been a real benefit.”

Twenty-four candidates applied for the position, and of those 24, six were interviewed via Skype, and two were invited for face-to-face interviews.

“One was from out of state, and the other was Gary Troutman,” said Jim Fram, who is retiring from the position and served on the hiring committee. “Gary performed very well in the whole process, and both boards believe he was the strongest candidate to step in and lead the organization going forward.”

For the past 2 1/2 years, Troutman has served as vice president of First Security Bank in Hot Springs. And before that, he served as general manager at the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record for a little more than five years and also worked for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for nine years — three of which as the classified advertising director. He also has experience in insurance sales, having managed several agencies in Little Rock.

“I think I can visit with a present chamber member or prospect and just offer a myriad of services,” Troutman said. “Having grown up in small business, I’m empathetic to their struggle — ‘How do I advertise, how can I save money on insurance? What is the best way to communicate my message to my customers and potential customers?’

“I think I can alter that in a way others can’t because of my diverse background.”

Troutman has also been active in several organizations, including the Arkansas Press Association, the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club, Fifty for the Future, the Oaklawn Foundation, the Hot Springs Future Fund and the National Park College Foundation.

Fram said he plans to stay on board as a project manager to assist with some economic issues and others.

“I’ve known [Gary] since I’ve been in Hot Springs,” Fram said. “He’s had a lot of background in the leadership of the organization, from the volunteer side. Now he has a chance to lead from the staff side, from policy-making to administration.

“I think he will do a great job.”

Fram said Troutman is an engaged leader and knows a lot of people.

“He comes in contact with a lot of people in a short period of time,” Fram said. “He’s a native of Hot Springs and knows the political and social lay of the land. He is a fantastic leader for the organization.”

Troutman graduated from Hot Springs Lakeside High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1986 from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. He said education is one of his bigger passions.

“We have the best schools in the whole state of Arkansas,” Troutman said. “We have fantastic local schools. Lakeside and Lake Hamilton are always ranked in the top 10 or 12 in the state.

“Hot Springs just passed a $54 million millage [campaign], and Cutter [Morning Star] is seeking to pass a millage [increase in] the next couple of weeks. Fountain Lake has grown tremendously, as has Jessieville. Mountain Pine has also had a resurgence the past couple of years.

“We also have the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts. If you have a family, if you’re giving your kids every benefit educationwise, what better place to come to than Hot Springs?”

When Troutman worked in Little Rock, he said, some of the conversations he would have with others concerned having to pay collegelike tuition to attend the private schools.

“These are college expenses that families have to take on when their kids are 12, 13 or 14 and then go on through their early 20s,” Troutman said. “In Hot Springs, you don’t have to do that. You can send your kids to quality public schools and do more traditional planning for when they go to college.”

He also said many of the area high schools now offer concurrent credit, which allows students to enter college with up to 66 hours of credit.

“Imagine the advantage of starting school as a sophomore or junior in college, how much you can save as a family,” Troutman said. “I am really passionate about our education [system]. We have fantastic schools.”

With the growth of National Park College and the installation of a Henderson State University campus downtown, one of the final pieces for growing Hot Springs has been put into place.

“They are offering four-year degrees, and you can see where it can help us long-term — Jonesboro, Conway, Northwest Arkansas and even Russellville and Searcy lately. They’ve grown leaps and bounds. What’s the common denominator? They’ve all got four-year colleges,” he said.

“As great as Hot Springs is, as great as drawing 3 million tourists a year is, the one thing we could not do is offer four-year degrees,” Troutman said. “I don’t know if you would say it is the final piece of the puzzle, but it is one of the last pieces in higher education.”

He also added that another big draw for Hot Springs is its health care, which is advantageous for a town that draws many retirees.

Troutman said one of his bigger goals in his new position is to increase the number of chamber members because membership has declined in the past 10 years. But he would also love to bring broadband internet to the city, he said.

“We are the largest county in Arkansas that does not have it,” Troutman said. “We are taking a benchmarking trip to Chattanooga in Tennessee later this month. It is billed as … ‘gig city’ because all 167,000 residents have access to broadband.

“I believe it was a federal grant that helped provide it. Chattanooga is really a city that has a lot going on for it in that regard.”

Troutman said for that to become a reality in Hot Springs, “we are going to have to get a provider willing to come in and provide the infrastructure. The businesses that absolutely have to have it are paying a crazy sum to get it, but you and I as individuals and the small mom-and-pop businesses, just as a rule, don’t have it.

“We need somebody to come in and provide access to everyone, individuals and businesses alike.”

Other challenges for Troutman will be building relations between the city and county governments.

“Myself and others have personally attended city board meetings and Quorum Court meetings, and we have gotten to know all these individuals,” he said. “What we have found are good-hearted people with good intentions. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing — to make Hot Springs and Garland County better.

“We hope to forge and strengthen relationships that are already here and take them to a new level where together, all these organizations — the chamber, the Metro Partnership and Visit Hot Springs — can propel the community forward.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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