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John Horner, the new head of the Chamber of Commerce, sits in Hunter Bay Coffee on Higgins Avenue, inside of First Interstate Bank's downtown branch on Friday morning. Horner is the Vice President of Commercial Banking at First Interstate.

John Horner hopes the next year will continue a trend of more business development in Missoula, and he's ready to do his part to help make it happen.

At the start of July, Horner began a year-long term as the chairman of the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce.

It’s a role for which he's been preparing over the past year. The chamber operates by having a board member spend a year as incoming chair, then a year in the top role followed by a third as past chair.

Horner said the setup means a smoother handoff from one leader to the next, with each person getting a year to learn the leadership role, implement a plan, then stay around as an adviser.

Last year when he was selected to be incoming chairman, Horner — who works for First Interstate Bank — worked closely with chamber chairwoman Jan Schweitzer from accounting firm Anderson ZurMuehlen on improving collaboration between the chamber and other agencies around town that promote Missoula.

“The best thing the organization does is collaboration and communication. We were able to do things like working with Destination Missoula to combine the visitor guides into one. Much easier and much more efficient,” Horner said.

The focus on collaboration is one he intends to keep over his year in the top role at the Chamber of Commerce.

“We want to go to all of these organizations and say, ‘Hey, how can the chamber help you?’” he said.

In addition to strengthening ties with groups like Destination Missoula and the Missoula Downtown Association — where Horner spent two years as board president — he wants to develop a better connection between the Chamber of Commerce, the University of Montana and the city and county government.

“If we all kind of coordinate and not feel like we’re stepping on each others’ toes it’s a much better Missoula,” Horner said.

That doesn’t mean each group won’t have it’s own goals and ideas to advocate, and that’s OK, Horner said.

“Missoula is becoming a much bigger destination place. It doesn’t happen by chance. It takes a lot of people being out there and telling the Missoula story,” he said.

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Born in Missoula, Horner grew up with 10 siblings. A member of the first graduating class of St. Joseph following the merger between St. Anthony and St. Francis Xavier grade schools, Horner attended Loyola Sacred Heart High School before heading to Carroll College, where he graduated with degrees in business administration and economics.

After stints in Seattle and around Idaho, Horner and his wife Judy — along with their two kids — returned to Missoula in 2006 when he began working in commercial lending at First Interstate Bank.

“It’s a great job to be able to understand the business perspective. From small operations where a person is working on a lifelong dream to a big company that employs more than a hundred people, they all want the same thing, which is a good place to live,” Horner said.

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Pointing to projects like the expansion at Southgate Mall, the Marriott hotel being built on the site of the now-deconstructed Missoula Mercantile and the plan for major development at the Riverfront Triangle property on the other side of downtown, Horner said Missoula is seeing businesses setting up shop in town at a rate not seen in years.

He acknowledges that some of the projects — and the public money being used to assist developers — have been contentious, but Horner said people should make their views known but understand that doesn’t mean they will always get their way.

“If you sit on the sidelines and critique, you’re not doing anyone any favors,” he said. “I don’t think there’s an investor or developer who doesn’t want to do right by the community.”

Even as more new businesses crop up around town, Horner said that doesn’t mean the chamber isn’t listening to the concerns of many of its current members.

“For developers, that’s been how to move through the city process for permitting and such, and how to educate the public on what they are doing,” he said. “For a lot of businesses, they are watching for new taxes, property tax issues and where that’s moving.”

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