December 12, 2016 09:14AM
By Brooke Constance White
Sun staff writer
MYSTIC — There was an honest and positive tone during the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting at the Mystic Aquarium Thursday morning as interim President Bill Smith introduced the new president and recounted the organization’s past challenges, recent successes and plans for the future.
The newly appointed president, Lord’s Point resident Peggy Roberts, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and has worked as an independent communications consultant for the last nine years, expressed her excitement to be joining the organization at such a pivotal time.
“I’m delighted for the opportunity to serve Mystic and I’m excited to take an already great place and turn it into a world-class destination while also serving our community,” she said. “It’s a very special place with tremendous potential to grow in the near future. I’m going to spend the next few weeks reaching out to the community and members and hearing ideas from people.”
Smith, who will be passing the baton to Roberts on Jan. 1, spoke to attendees about the journey the chamber has been on over the last eight months as the staff and board of directors worked to “right the ship.”
After the board parted ways with former chamber President Tricia Walsh last May, it was faced with several decisions about the future of the organization. In June, board members decided against merging with the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce in Westerly or pursuing a more formal partnership with the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce and agreed to maintain independence as an organization.
At that point, Smith said the board had to deal with some of the ongoing challenges the chamber had been facing, including poor financial health, an unfocused competitive position and a weak marketing strategy.
After understanding the gravity of its issues, Smith said the board put together a list of priorities for the future that included strengthening the foundation and rebuilding trust within the organization, enhancing the physical and brand awareness, re-establishing the chamber foundation, hiring a president and establishing near-term goals and strategies.
“Our recent initiatives have included rebuilding and strengthening our staff, moving our offices to a much more visible location, cutting our debt, trimming our cost structure and conducting strategic developments,” Smith said. “We are now much more present in the community and proud of it. I think we’ve worked hard to right the ship.”
At the moment, the chamber’s revenue has gone up seven percent while its net profit has gone up 112 percent. The board plans to open a welcome center at the new chamber office on Greenmanville Avenue in April.
“We have to be healthy first and foremost in order to satisfy our members and be successful in our mission,” he said. “Our goals for 2017-18 include growing membership, retaining members and having a positive fund balance to keep this organization healthy.”
Smith told attendees that he has been honored to serve as interim president and will continue as a member of the board in 2017.
“It’s been a pleasure these past six months to assist my community,” he said. “It’s been a labor of love and has been truly rewarding to me.”
Board Chairman Stephen Clemente, who owns Extra Virgin Oil Store in Olde Mistick Village, thanked chamber members for sticking with them through the challenges and being supportive throughout the transition over the last eight months.
“This conversation started in April when we brought a variety of opportunities to this group,” he said. “Some of the paths involved formal partnerships or a possible merger, but the path we found consensus on was the idea of establishing an interim president while searching for a permanent president.”
He went on to thank Smith for his work and encouraged attendees to work together.
“We’re all one, if we move together as one, we show that we’re a unified community,” he said. “Thanks for your patience as we move this ship forward. The world is our oyster.”