8 months after Chatfield resignation, Southwest Michigan First names new CEO

Kalamazoo County

A photo provided by Southwest Michigan First shows the organization’s next CEO, Jonas Peterson.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Exactly eight months after former House Speaker Lee Chatfield resigned as CEO from Southwest Michigan First, the Kalamazoo-based organization revealed its new leader.

Jonas R. Peterson is slated to take over the post on Jan. 5. He’s a Certified Economic Developer through the International Economic Development Council, which he also serves on.

“I share Southwest Michigan First’s conviction that the greatest force for change is a job,” Peterson stated in a Friday news release. “That’s the foundation of every business and talent attraction, retention, and development program I’ve led, and it’s more important than ever as we drive an inclusive post-pandemic economic recovery in Southwest Michigan. I’m honored to join the Southwest Michigan First team, and I look forward to fostering new partnerships throughout the region.”

Peterson comes to West Michigan from the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, where he served as president and CEO. Under Peterson, LVGEA became the largest nonprofit economic development organization in Nevada, teaming up with hundreds of companies to create more than 29,000 jobs over 9 years, according to Southwest Michigan First.

Peterson previously served as president and CEO of California’s Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation and the Mohave County Community and Economic Development Department in Kingman, Arizona.

Peterson replaces Chatfield, a conservative whose past comments on inclusion and the LGBTQ community spurred backlash over his hiring.

The city of Kalamazoo and The Kalamazoo Promise pulled support from Southwest Michigan First after the Feb. 11 announcement that Chatfield had been hired. The former Republican lawmaker resigned from the post on Feb. 22. He apologized for causing “some unfortunate controversy,” saying “it pains me to see my political past separate a welcoming community.” 

Southwest Michigan First says it “prioritized community feedback and inclusivity” during the six-month national search that led to Peterson. The organization says a search committee comprised of seven leaders from area businesses surveyed 655 people across 469 community organizations to whittle down the wish list for its next leader.

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