May 25, 2022


Not many can say that they began their career as an intern at a Chamber of Commerce and then went on to become president of a chapter. Thomas Paden, who first interned with the Canton Chamber of Commerce in high school, has now served as its president since 2012.

Paden, who joined the Business Leads Fellowship’s (Business Leads) most recent cohort, found out about the program from a colleague who participated in the first cohort. While the program remained virtual due to the pandemic, he felt that he still could grow and develop relationships with other fellows, learn trends, and take deeper dives into issues surrounding workforce development.

“I've learned so much about the policy, how legislature can affect some of our educational institutions and structures, and actually what we can do to improve those,” Paden said. “Additionally, we have been in the process of relaunching a Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) program. Being in this Business Leads program is just kind of perfect timing to refresh the memory on some of the TPM lessons that were learned a few years ago.”

The Business Leads program first trains fellows on their preferred interest areas, such as early childhood education, K –12 education, college and career readiness, post-secondary education, and workforce development for six months. Fellows then focus on project work in a local community for an additional six months.

Paden is currently in the process of launching his community project, Future Fit, in the Canton area. The four-step program offers in-demand career opportunities to students, starting in the 10th grade. Students can choose career pathways in business, healthcare, hospitality, or trade to gain critical skills, while employers can harness local talent. Following the completion of the program, students are eligible to receive a scholarship that can support a certificate, credential, or go towards degree attainment.

“We understand that education is important, but there's more than one pathway within education,” he explained. “Everyone doesn't fit that cookie-cutter mold of a four-year institution, and that's okay. And we try to really stand on our soapboxes and make sure that younger adults in our community, as well as our youth that are trying to decide which pathway to go down, understand that if you don't go to college, that's okay, there's other options.”

In a demanding labor market, companies become even more dependent on local resources and talent to succeed. Regional, state, and local chambers are critical in that process with their networks and on-the-ground insight.

As he launches Future Fit, Paden hopes that the program can become a resource in multiple communities and eventually scale to state and national levels.