Damariscotta Region Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Toni Crouch will retire Dec. 31 after a busy tenure at the chamber, including a move and new efforts to promote the region.
The chamber moved from a side street in downtown Damariscotta to a much more visible location on Main Street in Newcastle in October 2014.
The building at 67 Main St. is one of the first that visitors to the region see when they exit Route 1 from the south and enter the Twin Villages, and Crouch sees more locals in the office, too. “I think it’s really enhanced our ability to meet our mission,” she said.
The mission of the chamber is to “inform, promote, and support its members in order to enhance the business environment” of the region. The chamber draws members from across the county and as far away as Portland to the south and Lincolnville to the north.
Beyond the move, new initiatives of Crouch’s time at the chamber include her widely read email newsletter, a mix of chamber news and news from members, as well as news relevant to members.
She also cites earlier publication and distribution of the chamber’s annual guide, improvements to office operations, and a new member directory on the chamber’s website as positive developments.
Chamber President Cindy Wade said Crouch “came to the chamber at a time when we needed the foundation rebuilt to support the ongoing work necessary to meet” its mission.
“She has been instrumental in creating value to our members through the development of a comprehensive newsletter, outreach to the community at special events, building a tiered website structure that allows business owners options for promotion, enhancing Business After Hours events that help to engage and showcase our businesses and allow for precious networking time for members, and through the new office space, which is open and visible to visitors to our community and to our members when they need the expertise of our office staff,” Wade said.
Crouch arrived at the chamber with a background in education and nonprofit management. Early in her professional life, she worked in education in Argentina, Singapore, and Eastern Europe, where she worked for a Johns Hopkins University program that trained people in former Soviet republics to run nonprofits.
Upon returning to the U.S., she started a career in nonprofit management in Washington, D.C. She has about 30 years of experience in the field.
Her most recent position before moving to Maine was as vice president of education and communication for American Chamber of Commerce Executives, an organization that trains people to lead chambers of commerce.
She bought a home in Damariscotta for her retirement, but has continued to work in the area. For two years, she was the development director for the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Newcastle. She started at the chamber in August 2013.
As the executive director and only full-time employee of the chamber, which also has one 0.4-time employee, Crouch has a wide range of responsibilities.
She plans chamber activities and educational opportunities, works in membership development and outreach, and runs day-to-day office operations. She plans the annual meeting and monthly Business After Hours events and prepares the chamber’s guide.
While the chamber promotes the region to the outside world through the guide, a relocation package, and other efforts, it also works to promote local businesses to local people.
Crouch has firsthand experience with the allure of the region as someone “from away,” as well as more recent experience as a local resident.
She lists the beauty of the region and the variety of activities, from arts and culture to outdoor pursuits, among its best selling points.
“I love the small-town feel of this area,” Crouch said. “I don’t think there’s a nicer town around than Damariscotta. It’s year-round. There’s everything here that you need and so much that you want, and I can walk to work.”
Crouch is now ready to devote herself full-time to the enjoyment and exploration of the area.
“I’ve been working since I was 16 years old and it’s time to get to relax a little bit and have the time to be able to really enjoy this area, and I want to do it while I have a little energy left to get out and enjoy things,” she said.
Crouch lives in Damariscotta with her life partner. She likes to hike and go to museums and plays. She also plans to volunteer and write.
“I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with this chamber,” Crouch said. “It’s been a fantastic experience to get to know the business community and to be active and engaged in it. I have learned so much about the region by working at the chamber.”
“It’s been really fascinating and fun,” she said. “I’d like to thank everybody for making it a successful experience.”
The gratitude goes both ways. “The board would like to thank Toni for her expertise and the work she has done over the last few years, and we would like to congratulate her and wish her well in her retirement,” said Wade, the board president.
The board has formed a search committee and will advertise for a new executive director in The Lincoln County News and through the Maine Association for Nonprofits and social media.
“We are confident that we will find someone with a love for this community (and) its businesses, and who can continue to help the board meet its mission and goals in the coming years,” Wade said.
For more information about the Damariscotta Region Chamber of Commerce, call 563-8430 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.