In early October, I announced that I was leaving the Howard County Chamber after nearly nine years to return to my home state of Georgia to become President of the Fayette County Chamber. Since that announcement, the well wishes and outpouring of love have been tremendous. Prior to my arrival in November 2014, I had only driven through Maryland once or twice and my lone stop was the rest area off I-95 in Laurel. There, a tired man, his wife, and three children stopped for rest and ultimately took what has become one of my favorite photos. The smiles on that photo would be a foreshadowing of things to come. At that time, I was only vaguely familiar with Columbia having studied Jim Rouse in land use planning while getting my master’s degree in city and regional planning from Clemson University. I never imagined I would have such a rewarding experience here. My family has thrived here. Thus, it was with mixed emotions when I announced my departure.
I have always operated with a mantra to “leave things better than you found it.” In reflecting upon my tenure, I am proud of the work we have done and the things under development. We have a tremendous staff, the membership has recovered from losses experienced during COVID, our financial position is solid, and we continue to be one of the top Chambers in the region. Throughout the years, we started a Women’s Leadership Conference, now headed to its ninth year. We have reinvigorated our GovConnects program, and it continues to evolve. The Young Professionals Network or YPN continues to thrive as we have gone from having just networking events to a one-day conference, now in its third year, and professional development program done in collaboration with Howard Community College. We also revamped traditional programming to make it more contemporary. In the years ahead, efforts are underway to form a 501(c) (3) foundation which will enable the Chamber to be more intentional in tackling issues that the traditional Chamber model does not afford.
Programs aside, I am pleased that we are an organization that has progressed as the county has. We are diverse and inclusive. Our board which was long seen as male and pale, is now comprised of predominantly women and has large representation from the African American and Asian communities. We are the consummate community partner working with numerous organizations and institutions within the county and surrounding region. Through all of this, remain true to our roots as a businessperson’s chief advocate. We have continued to develop and cultivate relationships with our elected and appointed officials and take comfort in that we are often asked for our opinions on potential public policy and its impact on the employer.
I am forever thankful to the search committee that saw fit to give me a chance. I am also thankful to the Chamber board for the opportunity to have served. I am most appreciative to the Chamber staff, past and present, who worked and work tirelessly each day to serve this community. Although I may receive the acclaim, it has never been lost to me that it is their efforts behind the scenes that allow me to do what I do. I am also appreciative of you within the membership and community that have supported me with a word of encouragement, a gesture, or a bit of advice.
In closing, I am happy with my time here and the outcomes achieved. In track and field, teams pass a baton to their teammate in a way that is expeditious, yet safe. A dropped baton equals a loss but a safely passed baton equals a win. I believe that I have run a competitive leg, and it is my turn to pass the baton to the next leader. To my successor, run your race and I wish you nothing but success.