Krista Ratliff moved away from Lawton almost two decades ago, but she always wanted to come back and share what she’s learned with her hometown.

That opportunity finally came when the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce advertised for a new president and CEO to succeed Brenda Spencer-Ragland, who resigned in February.

Ratliff began work as chamber president in September after a career in health and government contracting.

Ratliff, who attended Edison Elementary and Eisenhower Junior High and High School, said she often visited Lawton after she moved away and stayed in contact with it from afar. When the Lawton job came open, “that definitely sounded like something I’d be interested in.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in radiolobiology, a Master of Human Relations from the University of Oklahoma and a doctorate in business and finance from the University of Phoenix.

Her career has taken her across the country with her husband John’s career as an Army lawyer. He grew up in Altus and has been named new city attorney by the Lawton City Council.

“One of the things I’ve always loved is serving my community and building relationships and giving back,” Ratliff said.

She believes her background, which includes her doctorate in business finance, has helped prepare her from the challenges offered by her new job.

And there are plenty. Many businesses are struggling because of the COVID pandemic, and shutdowns and less travel have cut into the hotel-motel tax, the chamber’s largest source of revenue.

“We would love to provide the same level of service,” she said. The budget and restrictions on meetings have made that much harder, even though the chamber has tried to be innovative in delivering its training.

Businesses, she said, have been trying to negotiate conflicting demands from government and health officials and from customers about restrictions — such as requirements to wear masks.

“They want to see their employees safe,” Ratliff said, “but then they also want to know their customers are satisfied when they come in as well.”

Her immediate goal is to provide training — such as on health mandates and human relations — in a virtual environment and at the same time to build programs that can be rolled out when business restrictions are eased.

“I think they biggest challenge is to make sure (members are) involved to the level that they want to be involved,” she said.

The chamber has introduced a new program — Grow the 580 — to encourage Southwest Oklahomans to do business with local firms. Gift certificates ranging from $5 to $25 are available on the chamber’s website (https://lawtonfortsillchamber.com/grow-the-580) and may be redeemed at 1010 Mercantile, Atlanta Bread Company, Billingsley Ford of Lawton, Brims and Accessories LLC, Burgess & Hightower Law Firm, Cache Road Liquor, Cache Road Square LP, Charley’s Steak Subs, Cinnabon, Hilton Garden Inn Bar & Restaurant, Lyft Rideshare Services, Massad’s Gift Shop, Red Dirt Reloaded, Ross Donuts, Scott’s House of Flowers, Silver Spoon, The Salt Cellar, The UPS Store, United Way of Southwest Oklahoma and Viridian Coffee.

“The goal is that it keeps the money local,” Ratliff said.

A bit of good news, she said, is that hotel-motel taxes haven’t shrunk as much as was expected.

And the chamber’s tourism efforts are now focusing on pandemic-friendly outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping.

Despite the bad news for the local economy, she’s been impressed by the way Lawton-Fort Sill has worked to make the best of a bad situation.

“I love being home and seeing a community that comes together like Lawton-Fort Sill does,” she said.

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