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Chamber of Commerce CEO Sticking to the Plan

Then & Now

By Judy Salamacha

Time flies when you’re remodeling. This is true whether building a structure, a business, or a program.

Savvy leadership understands change is positive, and furthermore, change is appreciated when modifications preserve the integrity of what worked best in the past, while introducing designs or practices that transform yet harmonize. Vision is crafted by advisers, who guide and champion the “architect.”

Erica Crawford has been CEO/president of the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce for about 18 months. Like many residents, she relocated from somewhere else — in her case New York and Boston — with hopes to find the perfect career-path that best matched her skills.

With varied life experiences, including owning her own business, her chamber position has offered challenges and fulfillment. And brick by brick, she’s working with the Chamber Board and staff to build sustainable programs that match the needs of their growing membership.

“I started as the summer season was starting,” she said. “By September we expanded an already successful Avocado-Margarita Festival with ‘Taste of the Grove’ and it was a hit.”

While implementing already-planned chamber programs and building a new staff, she actively participated in community events such as the excitement of the tall ship San Salvador’s visit. She’s enjoyed collaborating and sharing office space with Jennifer Little, the city’s first-ever tourism manager.

Morro Bay leadership was moving forward with economic development strategies and infrastructure changes that were positive and controversial at the same time.

“Then winter came,” Crawford said, “and I learned the realities facing our businesses trying to survive in a seasonal economy.”

The Chamber Board had a definite direction in mind. “The board wanted us to be more in touch with our businesses,” Crawford said. “We created the ‘Business Walk’ experience in March. There had been lots of changes in the past five years — several staff changes. In a morning, volunteers surveyed most businesses in Morro Bay. The feedback advised that we needed to hone in on our core purpose and make sure we were staying on task. Pieces were put into play so we could start re-building the organization step by step. We’re pleased membership is up 18%.”

Crawford is most proud of her staff. Both part timers, Juliana Morris and Jenny Gosnell, supplement Crawford’s talents. Morris has experience in museum operations and has implemented systems to improve operations.

Gosnell, a Morro Bay High graduate, has marketing and graphic arts experience and is a spark-plug for planning and membership outreach. “We’re not perfect yet, but moving in the right direction,” said Crawford.

A membership benefits brochure packet was just completed and the Chamber’s website is the next project on their list for improvements.

The board encourages staff development. Crawford’s priority has included collaboration with business training expertise for members as well as staff. A social media training series sold out and she’s working on a workforce development program with Cuesta College. Personal training for Crawford has been at the Western Association of Chamber Executives Academy.

Major support for Chamber operations happens annually at Avocado-Margarita Festival on Saturday, Sept. 9. Crawford encourages everyone to enjoy the expanded footprint. The waterfront event grew by another Embarcadero street for more retail vendors and a “Grom Zone,” a family-friendly fun area that offers eco-planting of avocado seeds.

Discover five bands, Cirque Adventures’ aerials, Forever Stokes community mural and, of course, everything edible with California-grown Avocados and yummy flowing fonts blended by the Margarita Man.

Tickets are also selling quickly for that Friday evening’s, Second Annual Taste of the Grove, see: www.avomargfest.com.

Crawford is also seeking potential board candidates to guide staff’s progress. “With the myriad of exciting things going on in Morro Bay,” Crawford said, “like the General Plan update, Economic Development policy, innovative events getting start-up funds, and new businesses coming into town, the business community must have the representation it wants and needs when decisions are being made that have economic impacts.

“The policy decisions that the Chamber Board of Directors makes today, impacts the organization for years to come. It’s important to build a healthy organization. And the board is a leading advocacy group seeking to diversity multi-industry business development critical for long-term sustainability for the City of Morro Bay.”

In a recent Chamber publication, board member, Jon Elliott, confirmed positive professional synergy while being at the forefront of what’s happening in Morro Bay. Networking with fellow board members became a realized benefit. Although his goal was representing the needs of businesses in Morro Bay, his business bonus was, “A fellow board member saw the opportunity to expand [Elliott’s barbershops] to BarrelHouse Brewing’s available site in SLO and linked him to the taproom owner. The rest is history. Connections matter.”

As a member — business or nonprofit – or a leader serving on the board of directors, Crawford invites everyone to join her team. “Together we accomplish more.”

Freelance writer, columnist and author of “Colonel Baker’s Field: An American Pioneer Story,” Judy Salamacha’s Then & Now column is a regular feature of Simply Clear Marketing & Media. Contact her at: judysalamacha@gmail.com or (805) 801-1422 with story ideas.

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