New Yelm Chamber executive director driven to help city grow

Tina Richardson has strong ties to the city in which she grew up


Tina Richardson believes she left her heart in Yelm when she moved away shortly after graduating from Yelm High School over two decades ago. She was a military child, living temporarily in Hawaii, Texas and Germany before settling in Yelm as an elementary school student.

Richardson moved to Tennessee after high school to study at Lee University in Cleveland, and she lived there until last November when she returned to Yelm. Five months into her second stint in Yelm, she applied for and accepted the Yelm Chamber of Commerce executive director role, which she started on Monday, April 8.

“I felt like I was supposed to come back here. My family is here, even some of my extended family,” she said. “I came back maybe twice a year when I lived in Tennessee. It’s not the same Yelm.”

Richardson said her best memories are in Yelm from her time attending the Prairie Days parade and other events to attending schools in town. As she has returned as an adult, she has begun to better understand the phrase “all roads lead through Yelm” after exploring its growth since she last called Yelm home.

“That phrase has not left my head since I heard it. There is something about Yelm that draws people. It’s a smaller town, but it doesn’t have the feel of a small town, so you get that connection and development,” she said.

Through touring the new-look Yelm since her return, Richardson said she is excited about the economic growth in town and wants the boom to continue as she embarks on her new role as the head of the chamber. She believes her experience in team building, event planning, budgeting, marketing and communicating in nonprofit organizations allows her to do just that.

Richardson is currently transitioning out of two remote jobs as she settles into her executive director role, one with Mundo Inc., an organization that strives to support programs and projects aimed at making a difference in assisting those in need, without discrimination based on gender, social status or nationality. She also serves as the digital marketing coordinator and graphic designer for Pathway Press, but she will still do graphic design work for them as a contractor as she shifts her primary focus to serving Yelm.

“Fundamentally, what this job comes down to is it’s an opportunity to build community, and the core of my heartbeat is to build community, to foster relationships and to help cultivate this healthy understanding of what it is to be a group of people supporting and celebrating one another and working toward a common goal,” Richardson said. “I get to be in the city and connect with people, and I get to experience what it looks like to learn from business owners and people who do great things.”

Richardson replaces Amanda Muñoz, who spent over a year in the role before accepting a position with the Thurston County Food Bank in March. She understands that longevity has been a concern for the chamber as she is now the third executive director since November 2022. She hopes that her strong connection to Yelm will assure the board members and the over 150 chamber members that she is here to stay.

“I have a heart for Yelm. Fundamentally and at the core, I have a heart for this community. I have a heart for the people here, and I have this deep desire to help grow Yelm and be a [stepping] stone for the businesses around this area,” Richardson said. “I know the big fear is, ‘How long is she going to be here for?’ I’ve had to ask myself that question and come to the realization that I care enough about what I feel like I need to help in this community that I’m not looking at this to just be a stepping stone to the next thing. My hope in my heart is to be a strength and a pillar and to help grow something. I can see how people are taking pride in this area, and I just want to help support that growth.

“Who knows what the future holds? But I have a purpose. I have a drive, and whatever strength I can lean into and offer, I will do that to the best of my ability,” she continued.

In her first year on the job, Richardson’s primary goals are to build relationships and ask a lot of questions. She said she doesn’t want to just build relationships to get something out of them but to build them for the betterment of local businesses and the community as a whole. Richardson also wants to help incorporate social media into highlighting businesses in town.

“The great thing about this job is that, as long as the core things are getting hit, it can be formed however it needs to be formed,” she said. “I’m a relational person, so the focus of everything I do will be on relationships.”