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'Campus kid' says CEO position for Tribes' economic development arm is a homecoming and a calling

COURTESY PHOTO - Jim Souers is the new CEO at Warm Springs Ventures. He grew up in Warm Springs and is excited to be back.About six years ago, Jim Souers was introduced to the Warm Springs Ventures group.

The group had been established in 2001 by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Tribal Council as its economic development arm.

At that time, Souers was part of a mobile health care software startup that he thought might be a good fit for the tribe's venture group. While the startup wasn't a fit, he got introduced to the staff. And the conversation became the start of something else.

"That day I got a whisper in my ear that said, 'How can you help?' This group is very important to the tribe." Souers said.

"I've never really had that experience," Souers said. "The whisper just kept getting louder and louder."

After a long career with Advanced Micro Devices,?he has been a part of multiple startups in a variety of industries. Most recently, he was vice president of business development for AerNos, a nanotechnology company that makes gas sensors.

But then he learned that Warm Springs Ventures was looking for a new CEO.

"All of a sudden that whisper became basically a calling for me to step up and help the place I call home," Souers said. "I've seen other people in my life step up for the community and do things that made a difference in the lives of others ..."

Two of those were his parents, Dick and Dot Souers. Dick was a civil engineer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ran the roads department at the end of his career. Dot was a secretary at Warm Springs Elementary School. Dick and his tribal friends built the Little League field in Warm Springs. Then for the next 15 or so years he coached the Papoose team and became the district president for the Madras and Warm Springs area. They also raised their children, Rick, Bonnie, Terry and Jim in Warm Springs.

Souers said he has had a lifelong bond with the community and culture of Warm Springs, and that growing up as a "campus kid" was a blessing.

He started the job Monday, April 6, and he's getting to know the businesses the economic development organization works with, including Cannabis and Hemp, Warm Springs Construction Enterprise, Warm Springs GeoVisions and Native Fax.

"The transition has been great," Souers said. "The people have been great in regards to opening up and very inviting as I come on board. ... I'm just trying to learn and absorb everything about the Ventures staff, the businesses and get introduced to the greater tribal community."

"The mission of the group is to establish new business opportunities for the tribe that increase revenues and jobs for the community," Souers said. That, in turn, benefits all of Central Oregon, and Souers said he is open to ideas from all in the community about economic development.

After graduating from Madras High School, Souers studied computer engineering at Oregon State University. The engineering itself wasn't a great fit, but Souers saw postings for a job that seemed perfect — sales engineer.

"When I read through those requirements, it was like an aha moment," Souers said. "That's me."

The position coupled understanding technology with the larger dynamics of business and people skills.

After he graduated in 1984, he joined Advanced Micro Devices.

"I was so blessed that I found a path into a career that I felt I could succeed at," he said.

Over the next 20 years, he had 10 different assignments and was based in California, Illinois, Michigan, and finally Oregon. Along the way, he earned a master's in business administration from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management in Chicago and worked with Fortune 500 companies, governments and universities.

By then, he had married his school sweetheart, Mary Nelson. Her family also had deep ties to the Madras community. Her mother, Liz, was a first grade teacher at Madras Elementary School, and her father, Bob, ran the industrial arts program at Madras High.

Jim and Mary had three children, who are now 27, 25 and 21. They didn't want to raise their kids in California, so they moved to Portland, and Jim stayed on with Advanced Micro Devices, "fixing things" in the Northwest and Canada.

When they asked him to move back to California, he decided to strike out on his own, starting small business and helping to develop and grow others.

"This is what I love," he said.

Now he's bringing that love back home.

"This is something that I hope finishes my career and allows me to make a contribution that I never thought I'd have, the opportunity to help the community that raised me," he said. "It's very meaningful and spiritual to me for sure."


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