By Will McClure
After three years of helping the Chamber of Commerce build a stronger relationship with the businesses and community of Stamford, Executive Director Carolyn Smith celebrated her last day at the Chamber last Friday, January 6. In her time as director, Smith, along with the help and support of the chamber board, has worked to establish the Chamber's place in the Stamford community, helping to increase membership and bring more visitors to town with sponsored events. Essentially starting from scratch with no chair, computer or desk, Smith was able to help institute many changes and infuse a bit of personality over the last few years, with it becoming more than just a job for her. Now, after careful consideration and changes in her own life, Smith made the decision to step down as director to "let someone younger take over and run with it."
When asked why she made the decision to step down, Smith said while she has enjoyed and loved her time at the Chamber, she believed that it is ultimately time for someone younger with fresh ideas to take over after thinking about it for a while and even considering staying. On the same note, Smith said the decision came about after her husband's parents became ill, requiring extra care and support from Smith and her husband. However, Smith said that the Chamber would be in good hands and that the community is very capable of seeing membership increase under new director Kaitlyn Richards.
When she first began at the Chamber, Smith said that she had to learn quickly in order to really begin helping it build up. In the early days, Smith said that she received a lot of mentoring and guidance from Fareed Hassen, stating that he had the knowledge and experience to help her adapt to the new position and appreciated all of the help that he gave. Smith said that she also had people like Melinda Smith help her learn the Quickbooks program to help keep the Chamber’s finances in order and Cheyenne Bereuter help her learn the bylaws of the city of Stamford. From there, Smith knew that one of her first priorities would be to begin increasing membership for the Chamber. Having no office at the time, Smith put in the legwork by trying to go to as many businesses as she could to offer Chamber membership. Over time, Smith began to help the businesses see the value of membership, stating that she felt that this was one of her greatest accomplishments as director as she tried to establish a bond with the business and help in any way she could, telling them that they could call the Chamber at any time for support or just simple information as to who to get in touch with for a certain task.
Smith would not stop there in this relationship as she helped businesses with free advertising. Whether it was a permanent black sign on the square, a Chamber spotlight on the marquee or a complete write-up in her Chamber Chatter column for the Stamford American and Stamford Star. Smith went above and beyond to make sure to build a good relationship with local businesses and tried to put a bit of her own personality in the job, thoroughly loving what she did each and every day, ultimately not even considering it a job at the end of the day.
Along with increasing membership at the Chamber, Smith also worked with the Chamber board to help organize more events around the square to help showcase businesses but also help encourage visitors from out of town to visit Stamford. Smith said that, initially, vendors would be contacted by mail to see if they wanted to set up, but the longer she worked, the more hands-on it became to pick up the phone and call the vendors to encourage them to set up on a Saturday afternoon. Smith also said that social media had been wonderful for the Chamber to help get the word out about the events quickly and draw in more visitors to the square.
All in all, Smith said that she has enjoyed her time as Chamber Executive Director and said that she will miss greeting and talking to the public, stating that she is indeed a people person. She said that she would still continue to help with the food bank and the Baptist Church, but the time had come for someone younger with fresh ideas to take over and make the Chamber even better. Smith said that she advised her successor, Kaitlyn Richards, to get out and visit with the businesses and be personable with them, letting them know that the Chamber is ready to help with anything Chamber-related and continue to build that relationship.
Smith ended by stating that she would like to thank the board members, businesses, and community for all of their help and support as well as Fareed Hassen for his mentoring and advice. She said that she has absolutely loved the job, but it is now time to move on. Thank you for all you have done, Carolyn. You will be missed and good luck in whatever you do next!