St. George Chamber of Commerce event celebrates 30 ‘dynamic young professionals’

ST. GEORGE — The St. George Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated 30 dynamic professionals who are in their 30s Thursday evening at the Dixie Convention Center.

Chamber CEO Don Willie jokes with guests, St. George, Utah, Nov. 4, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

The celebration, entitled “30 in Their Thirties,” is all about honoring the persistent, community-oriented young leaders in the St. George area, said Chamber President and CEO Don Willie.

“These are the leaders who won’t take no for an answer,” Willie told St. George News.

The event is all about honoring the nominees and their achievements – and then rallying behind them, said Willie, who was nominated as one of 30 in a former iteration of the event.

“It’s important to remember that the people we’re celebrating are in the first third of their careers,” Willie said. “Our goal is to give them the validation that they need in order to reach the next phase in their careers. Then, they can give that love back to the community.”

Electric Theater Comedy Producer and comedian Val Douroux, St. George, Utah, Nov. 4, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

This year’s nominees range from restaurateur Cory LaFranchi, a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Dept. of Justice, and other members of the business community, to Electric Comedy Festival producer and comedian Val Douroux.

Douroux joked with St. George News, saying “if the application wasn’t so long, I would have nominated myself.”

Luckily for her, she said, someone who did have the time felt that she deserved the honor.

“I do a lot of work, but don’t always feel appreciated,” Douroux told St. George News. “I’m grateful that someone out there recognizes that we’re making a difference in St. George.”

Douroux has made a name for herself by bringing world-class comedians to participate in a year-round slate of Electric Comedy programming. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, she said, as doing comedy in St. George presents unique challenges.

“The Electric Theater is not a bar,” she said. “So, our comedians have to work harder to get the laughs-per-minute that they may get in a bar … where the audience is enjoying adult beverages.”

Douroux’s mission is a simple one: she strives to bring people together to laugh, and “to connect people through comedy.”

Her dedication to the community may be evinced by her willingness to jump on a plane in Los Angeles to fly to Las Vegas the morning of the event. Once there, she rented a car to drive to St. George, where she arrived as the celebration was getting underway.

Friday morning, she made the same trip in reverse. Her dad, Irv Douroux, accompanied her on the whirlwind trip. But Val Douroux was as buoyant as ever as she joined her fellow honorees for dinner.

“I love that kind of trip, and I love St. George,” she said.

Chef Cory LaFranchi and his wife pose for a portrait, St. George, Utah, Nov. 4, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

A number of restaurateurs made the list, too. Among them, Cory LaFranchi, a chef who moved to St. George from Seattle during the pandemic, said that he feels blessed to be nominated to this group of exceptional business people. Like Douroux, LaFranchi said he didn’t know he was nominated until he got a notice from the Chamber.

“I think it started with selling tacos and burgers out of my home,” LaFranchi said of being nominated. “Now, I’m working with the team at Cliffside to build a new menu, as well as workplace culture.”

LaFranchi said he had to pause the former to dedicate himself to the latter as executive chef for the past few months. His goal, he said, is to help make Cliffside a place where diners love to eat, and employees love to work.

“I’ve been building relationships in this community since we moved here,” he said. “I started a supper club where local people who are interested in food could connect and converse. There’s real power in that, but I didn’t know exactly how much.”

“Now,” he said of the nomination, as well as his contributions at Cliffside, “it’s all coming together.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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