Member Spotlight

Tonya Sarlls

Director of Operations
Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce

Tonya Sarlls is the Director of Operations at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.  Tonya joined the Chamber staff in 2015.   She is responsible for leading and managing the daily operations including event and program management, financial reporting as well as membership and recruiting services. 

  1. Where were you born? Where do you live today? Born in Texarkana, Texas.  Recently moved from Fort Smith to just outside of Greenwood, Arkansas.  It’s very peaceful.
  2. What do you love most about Arkansas? I love the scenery. We have the mountains, the lakes and a lot of nature to take in.
  3. Very few people know that I… enjoy getting on the back of my husband’s Harley for a ride. I had never ridden before I met him and now I love it. 
  4. Favorite vacation spot outside of Arkansas? Any spot with a beach! One place that I would love to visit is Key West, Florida.
  5. Children and/or pets? I have 3 children, Brianna, Taelor and Trevor. I also have 3 cats and 3 dogs … 5 of those pets were rescued from the HOPE Humane Society.
  6. The greatest risk I ever took was…? Changing careers at the age of 40, but no regrets whatsoever.
  7. Best place in Arkansas to spend the weekend? Eureka Springs any time of year.
  8. Who would you most like to swap places with for the day and why? My younger self with the knowledge that I have today.  I would have seized more opportunities, traveled more and would love to recapture moments with my kids when they were little. 
  9. How long have you been in the chamber/economic development profession, and what do you like most about your job? I am in my third year and I truly love what I do.  I enjoy learning about the various companies and industries in our area.  I also like to work with small businesses in helping them to gain exposure and connecting them with viable tools so that they can be successful.
  10. Best career advice I would give someone in the Economic Development or Chamber profession? “Don’t be afraid to be creative.  Some of the best and most profitable programs come from ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking.   Also, listen to what your members are saying.  Use their concerns, feedback and successes to build programs that will help businesses as well as the individuals that are making their living in your community.” 

Melissa Rivers

Executive Director
East Arkansas Planning & Development District (EAPDD)
East Arkansas Regional Solid Waste Management District (EARSWMD)

Melissa is the Executive Director for the East Arkansas Planning & Development District (EAPDD), as well as the East Arkansas Regional Solid Waste Management District (EARSWMD), where she has served since 2011. As an agency, EAPDD serves a 12-county area of eastern Arkansas. The District’s purpose is to promote and support the economic development of the region. It does this by providing technical assistance to the cities, counties, businesses, and other development organizations in the area, and by networking extensively with state and federal resource agencies.

  1. Where were you born?  Where do you live today? Memphis, Tennessee and live today in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
  2. What do you love most about Arkansas? I love the genuine friendliness of our communities.
  3. Very few people know that … My first job was at a hardware store in Memphis, TN
  4. Favorite vacation spot outside of Arkansas? I love Alaska and Hawaii
  5. Children and/or pets? I have two children: Cade, 14 and Azzie, 7. Three dogs, Sunny, Marley, and Gracie
  6. The greatest risk I ever took was…? Taking the job with EAPDD, it has been the most challenging yet most rewarding job of my career.
  7. Best place in Arkansas to spend the weekend?  There are too many great spots to name just one. I love to go anywhere that has a lake, river and a deck.
  8. Who would you most like to swap places with for the day and why? Elon Musk – Because he is an innovator, disrupter, and pushes boundaries every day.
  9. How long have you been in the chamber/economic development profession, and what do you like most about your job? I started as a communications intern at the Jackson, TN Chamber in 1990. I’ve worked in just about every possible role that you could have in an EDO along the way.
  10. Best career advice I would give someone in the Economic Development or Chamber profession?  “Know who your customer truly is, know your product better than anyone, and serve them both to the best of your ability with integrity.”