Maps follow tidy boundaries that mark the borders between states in our Tri-state area, but up close those lines matter less. On the ground, our economies and businesses are serving people – regardless of where they are located. A coordinated strategy for our region is necessary and appropriate.
Making connections across boundaries
Part of this integrated approach for the past 25 years has been the Tri-State Chamber of Commerce (TSC). It serves the commerce, healthcare, education, and non-profit sectors in the blended borders between New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Today, it has 180 members, 12 of whom are sponsors.
Past-president and current treasurer – and website designer – and newsletter editor – and press liaison Jean Saliter reiterates the mission of TSC, “We’re about connecting commerce and community. It’s that simple. We’re a membership organization that allows local organizations and their people to connect in several important ways.”
This impact is echoed by Caroline Burchfield, who is involved in the types of organizations that TSC serves. She is director of community relations at Noble Horizons, director of volunteer programs at The Hotchkiss School, a past board member of the Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service and on the advisory board of the Jane Lloyd Fund. For Burchfield, “Being a member of the Tri-State Chamber is important on a number of fronts. Membership helps the Chamber support local businesses and non-profits, which has never been more important than now. COVID-19 has reminded us that we succeed together and membership in the Chamber fortifies our collective impact and reach.”
Business After Hours
One of the most important channels of connection for Saliter (and one that’s been on hold since COVID-19) is Business After Hours (BAH). Says Saliter, “These are casual – emphasis on the casual – networking events. They are not meetings. Member-hosted and attended, they’re opportunities to get the word out about their work, their needs, and upcoming events.” Saliter, to use the parlance of author Malcolm Gladwell, is a connector who sees relationships between people, sometimes before they do.
While BAH events seem casual and informal, the member-hosts put tremendous effort into creating a welcoming and festive ambience. And Saliter is serious about the good work they do. “There’s a lot of work that can be accomplished. Networking. Relationship-building. I’m seeing who needs to meet whom, then grabbing them to meet someone.” Posing a question with no appropriate answer other than “yes” she works the room asking, “Can I steal you for five minutes? There’s someone you need to meet.”
Supporting local non-profits
Another way in which TSC supports members is sponsorship of non-profit events and fundraisers and connecting non-profits with this area’s socially-minded business community. “We have a robust non-profit community in this area that needs to be supported,” Saliter asserts.
Burchfield, who’s active in non-profits that have benefited from the Chamber’s generosity, understands this firsthand, “The businesses and non-profits in our communities have always championed each other and the Chamber helps us expand our network and organizes initiatives that provide collective promotional benefits that enhance our visibility and reach.”
This support is also accomplished through TSC’s major fundraiser of the year. Punctuating the second Monday in June for the past 25 years is the Murphy Open Golf Tournament. The event donates net proceeds to a non-profit in the Tri-state area.
The 2020 tournament was to be hosted at the stunning Links at Union Vale in LaGrangeville and benefit the Jane Lloyd Fund, which serves cancer patients and their families with financial need who reside or work in the Connecticut towns of Canaan, Cornwall, Falls Village, Kent, Salisbury, and Sharon. However, due to social distancing requirements, the event has been canceled for the first time in its history.
Other events that TSC hosts are the Adopt-a-Tree program to add festive lighted trees through Lakeville, Salisbury, and Canaan in the holiday season and Hometown Holidays with hot cocoa, caroling, a visit from Santa, and the annual Parade of Lights at the White Hart Inn. There’s also the Falls Village Car & Motorcycle Show and the Salisbury Fall Festival that anchor the annual line-up. For Burchfield, these community events “…are additional examples of their broad-based impact and vision for the small businesses and non-profits that are so vital to our region and its future.”
New board, new reality
In March, the new TSC board was to make its first appearance at a Business After Hours and begin their tenure. With Mary Wilbur as president, Saliter as treasurer, Marie Castagna as secretary, and Linda Robertson, Marlane White, and Danielle Stevenson as directors, they were hoping to use the month’s BAH as a photo opp for the new team.
Instead, they found themselves, like everyone else, in virtual meetings trying to pivot to the new COVID-19 reality. Saliter is proud of the work this board has been able to accomplish since then. “I am constantly humbled and dumbfounded by this board’s combination of idea people and action people. We’re a new board and every idea is met with ‘How can I help? What do you need?’” It’s that kind of sleeves-rolled-up approach that has allowed the Chamber to reorient itself to serve its members and the wider community.
Just the facts
Through the weekly newsletter, an obsession with the communication-thirsty Saliter, they have produced resource-rich compendiums of state and federal resources for local businesses and non-profits. The all-volunteer board dug in to locate and vet factual and accurate information to allow members to understand their options, what assistance they’re eligible for, and how to apply for it.
Another newsletter featured restaurants in the tri-state area that are open for take-out. “Some of these restaurants had 24-hours notice about closing,” Saliter observes. “In my mind, the restaurants are a driving force in our area. They are the beginning and end of this local economy. There’s a reason they are deemed an essential service. Getting the word out about their offerings is expensive and they don’t have the resources to advertise right now.”
Hearts on Tour
On April 28, National Superheroes Day, TSC hosted the Hearts on Tour parade to honor our local health workers and those on the front-line of the pandemic. The brainchild of board member Marlane White, it was one of those all-hands-on-deck efforts. “Marlane is a big ‘National Day of’ fan,” chuckles Saliter. “She has one of those calendars on her desk. When she saw National Superheroes Day, she knew the parade had to be then. That epiphany was on April 19 – we had less than two weeks to pull this together.”
And pull they did. All working their day jobs as well, they labored round the clock to contact all the towns, the facilities on the routes, and plot the 40-mile circuit. On the day, following speed limits and traffic regulations, over 50 decorated vehicles waved and honked in salute to workers at Noble Horizons, Geer Village, Sharon Health Care Center, Salisbury Visiting Nurse Association, and Sharon Hospital. For the TSC board, there were many lump-in-the-throat moments as they paid homage to workers in full PPE regalia.
Burchfield was standing outside during that parade with her colleagues at Noble Horizons. She gratefully describes, “The Hearts on Tour parade is another example of the Chamber’s proactive leadership and underscores their unique capacity to mobilize businesses, non-profits, and local citizens for the good of all.” She further attests, “It provided a unifying and palpable outlet for the entire community to come together, giving grateful local residents a way to express their profound appreciation while honoring healthcare workers with a resonating testament to their courage, compassion, and commitment. Noble Horizons team members cherished the generous and thoughtful support and welcomed the boisterous cheers, colorful signs, bright red hearts, and outpouring of love.”
Looking toward the future
In October, TSC will sponsor a team in member organization’s Connecticut Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s. This year it will be hosted at Lime Rock Park, which has named Connecticut Alzheimer’s as their Official Charity for 2020.
As is the case for everyone, the Tri-State Chamber of Commerce is trying to navigate uncertain times and a hazy new normal. With a resilient and resourceful member community and board, they’re already responding to these times and discerning how their mission of connecting commerce and community will look in the days ahead.