Chamber president Cheryl Rothman said the board looked at a number of good candidates, some with previous chamber experience, but until Cunningham stepped forward, none of the candidates had the local experience that the board thought was critical.
“We’re very excited,” Rothman said. “She has a lot of event and hospitality experience, and she knows the businesses in the area. She’ll be a wonderful advocate for the chamber.”
Cunningham’s official first day is August 4, but she says she’ll be in the chamber office learning as much as she can before she officially takes the reins. She has already sat in on planning sessions for the upcoming Wine and Harvest Festival.
Currently, Cunningham is working at the Hermitage Club, where she has been beverage manager and worked on events over the last two-and-a-half years. “I’ve been at the Hermitage and been part of coordinating a lot of things to help make the transition from small country inn to big brand-name resort,” she says.
Except for a few years spent living in North Carolina and a few other places, Cunningham has lived in the valley most of her life. If her last name sounds familiar, it’s because she comes from a large local family that has earned a reputation for hard work and community service. In fact, Cunningham’s sister, Laura Sibilia, served as the chamber’s executive director for several years, until she left in 2011 to take an economic development position at Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation.
Cunningham says she knew the job was a challenge she wanted to take on as soon as she saw and advertisement for the positions. She says two of her strengths are consensus building and collaborating with others.
“I’m really looking forward to working with a new team,” said Cunningham. “Not just the chamber team, but the entire valley. I know a lot of people in the valley, but there are a lot of people I want to meet so I can start building a relationship with them and to be their advocate.”
Cunningham will be jumping in right in the middle of the Deerfield Valley Blueberry Festival, and just in time for the final preparations for chamber’s Wine and Harvest Festival. Rothman says the chamber will also begin working on a valley branding initiative once a grant-funded study initiated a year ago is completed. Rothman says she expects to receive the final recommendations in the next few days.
“One of our really big pushes is to have a new marketing program for our area and businesses,” Rothman said. “We really need to come up with a better plan for our chamber members.”
The grant for the branding initiative was the work of Adam Grinold, who served as interim, then permanent executive director during the recovery phase of Tropical Storm Irene. Grinold left in April to take take the executive director position at Wilmington Works, the organization formed to administer Wilmington’s downtown program.
Cunningham and Grinold are likely to be collaborators on many issues, and Cunningham expressed gratitude for her predecessor’s work at the chamber. “Adam was a fantastic executive director,” she said. “He’s very innovative, and sees beyond the box in creating new events and promoting the established events.”
Cunningham says she also has ideas for chamber projects – ideas she’ll keep to herself until she has more experience in the role of executive director. “I want to get my feet under me for now,” she says. “But I daydream while I’m driving, and I’ve lived a lot of other places. I’ve seen a few things I thought might work here.”
Mindful of the role the chamber plays in the community, not only in business but also in civic affairs, Cunningham describes the chamber as the hub in a wheel with many spokes. “The chamber is a way to focus the power of the valley so we can get things done.”