(Nov. 29) The United Potato Growers of America finally has completed its search for a new top executive. The challenge is just beginning for the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

Lee Frankel resigned Nov. 26 as president of the Nogales, Ariz.-based FPAA to accept the roles of president and chief executive officer of Salt Lake City-based United Potato. Frankel said he plans to stay with FPAA into late December and will begin work Jan. 2 at United Potato.

“There are a number of tasks in front of him,” said Jim Knutzon, the head of United Potato’s search committee and chief executive officer of Farm Fresh Direct LLC, Monte Vista, Colo. “Growing membership, retaining members and building programs that benefit members are at the top of the list.”

Frankel had been president of FPAA since 1996. Prior to that, he spent five years as a trade analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. International Trade Commission.

“His ability to work with growers in a variety of circumstances over a long period of time and help them achieve their goals was by far the attribute that mattered most to us,” Knutzon said.

Knutzon said Frankel’s reputation as a leader and consensus builder and his expertise in international trade and in dealing with government regulatory agencies also were factors in the committee’s decision.

He succeeds Julia Cissel, who resigned in January. Knutzon said after initial search efforts failed to produce a qualified applicant, United Potato hired an executive recruiter four months ago to expedite the process.

“I’m glad we finally have a CEO,” said Jed Ellithorpe, United Potato board member and partner in Center, Colo.-based Aspen Produce LLC. “We’ve needed one for a while. This is good news for us.”

The news was not good for the Fresh Produce Association.

FPAA board member and chairman elect Chris Ciruli said the association doubled its annual budget under Frankel’s guidance and also expanded its staff. During Frankel’s tenure, the association moved to a new office, saw the expansion of the Mariposa Port of Entry and helped secure government funding for the designs for an updated port of entry.

“He took the Fresh Produce Association to a new level,” said Ciruli, partner in Ciruli Bros. LLC, Rio Rico, Ariz. “He not only was a great president, but Lee is very well liked in this town. It’s a huge loss to the Fresh Produce Association. We’re in a much better place than we were 12 years ago.”

FPAA communications director Allison Moore said a search committee likely will be finalized during the association’s Dec. 4 meeting. Ciruli said a timeline for finding a successor also likely will be established during that meeting.

Ciruli said the association will consider applicants from both sides of the border.

“We need somebody that can handle themselves in Mexico and in Washington, D.C., and someone who understands the border issues we face,” said Bill Sykes, president of The Sykes Co., Rio Rico, an FPAA board member and past chairman.