BENNINGTON >> The Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce held their annual dinner on Friday, and introduced new executive director Matthew Harrington and new president Ed Woods.
Harrington was named executive director in December, after previous director Joann Erenhouse abruptly retired from the position in June. On Friday, he spoke of a need for the Chamber to adopt a "transformative agenda," and brought up three points he wants to focus on in the coming year. The first, he said, was the organization's strategy. He called for the Chamber to take a hard look at its mission and its values, and consider whether they are still what the organization believes in.
Second, Harrington said he wanted to focus on the future of the organization. "The membership of yesterday is not going to be the membership of tomorrow," he said, "We need to create a Chamber that is flexible enough to bend and change with the times." The final point, he said, was branding, which the Chamber is working to achieve by expanding their presence in social media, and is working on a series of videos with Catamount Access Television to showcase products that are made in Bennington. "How do we better promote you?" he asked the assembled Chamber members, "and how do we do that organically?"
Woods, who is the publisher of the Bennington Banner, had previously served as the first vice president of the organization's board of directors, under president Chad Schmidt and alongside second vice president Stu Hurd. "I'm excited to be taking on the role of President for our Chamber of Commerce, especially with he appointment of our new Executive Director," he said, "This organization has seen some significant changes in recent years, both internally and in the community that we serve. For the last year or so we have begun transforming the Chamber of Commerce into an entity that can better foster and support business growth and opportunity in today's economy and climate. Matt Harrington's mission in his new role will be to guide the organization into the future and I am looking forward to working with him and his team for the next two years to accomplish our goals."
He also made sure to thank Operations Director Marie Shutts for all of her hard work in the past year. "I don't want to spend too much time looking back into the past," he said, "but I would be remiss if I didn't mention how grateful the board is to the Chamber staff who have remained steadfast in their commitment to their community over the last year. Because of Marie Shutts and her team, we are ready now to take these next steps and build. I want to personally thank Marie for being the glue that held us together."
Outgoing president Schmidt said a few words at the beginning of the dinner, which was hosted at the Bennington Elks. "This past year has been filled with challenges," he said, "and a lot of changes. Things happened that weren't so positive, but we got through them. I'm really proud of the progress we made in 2015."
According to the Chamber's annual report, which was made available at the dinner on Friday, 2015 saw a 17 percent increase in traffic at the Visitor's Center in its second year of operation. The peak months for visitors were July and August, with another spike in October. "We assisted guests from every state and many foreign countries, with our goal being to get them into Bennington before they travel throughout the rest of the state," said Visitor's Center Supervisor P.J. DeVito, "We have assisted them in finding our many attractions, restaurants, shops and lodging. We are finding that Bennington is a destination, which is no surprise to us." He said that all of his staff all were trained to be and are now certified as official Vermont Ambassadors.
Throughout the night, music was provided by Sam Clement and Matt Scott, collectively known as Beard and Glasses.
Harrington closed his comments with an analogy, comparing the Chamber to the broken office computer he had been struggling with in the morning. "The hard drive of the chamber isn't bad," he said, "The heartbeat isn't bad. What we need to do, is take it out, and put it into something new."