The New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce offers its 402 members a host of benefits, from the networking mixers and promotional opportunities they’re best known for providing to the lesser known advantages of membership that include educational business workshops, group health and dental insurance plans and access to a labor and employment law hotline.
The New Paltz Chamber recently welcomed a new executive director, Kathy Combs. (She’s in the process of adopting her new married name, Prizzia, but in the meantime, expect to see either name.) A native of Ulster County, Combs has lived and worked in the New Paltz area for more than 20 years. After 15 years as general manager at P&G’s restaurant, she owned the 36 Main Restaurant & Wine Bar on Main Street in New Paltz and was most recently assistant food and beverage director at Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland. Combs has chaired the Taste of New Paltz for three consecutive years, participated on the New Paltz Regatta planning committee and is a longtime member of the New Paltz Rotary Club.
New Paltz Times recently chatted with Combs about her plans for the Chamber and the year to come.
What inspired you to take on this position?
I heard about this position being open while I was working at Rocking Horse Ranch. I was really happy at my job there, and I wasn’t job searching, but I wanted this job. And there’s a big difference with that. I love the New Paltz community; I’ve lived, worked and owned my own business in New Paltz, I volunteer extensively, through Rotary Club, through my daughter’s athletics and my children’s activities, and I thought, ‘What a great way to make what you love doing a full-time job.’
What do you hope to accomplish as executive director of the Chamber?
First and foremost on my agenda is to get out and meet the members, or reconnect in some cases. I want to talk to them about what their needs are; people join the Chamber for different needs. But the New Paltz Chamber has been in business for over a century, and I’m not looking to recreate something or create something new; I think that we have a very solid foundation. We have a great name in this community, and I’m looking to build on that.
What would you say to business owners who say they’re too busy to join the Chamber?
I don’t think anyone is too busy to be a member of the Chamber. The whole purpose of the Chamber of Commerce is an organization that is all pro-commerce; that is our job. Our job is to offer a service, and that service is to market your business. Our service is to bring people to this area.
What is the main thing people look for from the local Chamber of Commerce?
Just in the four weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve seen people who are moving to the area who have stopped into our visitor’s center to get information, helping them find a realtor, a place to rent or a hotel to stay at. They learn about restaurants, various businesses and how to connect and meet people their age. In particular, I was telling a young single woman who is moving to the area about various restaurants and places she might be able to meet people. Another time, there was a woman being relocated to this area with her job who has children; we talked about the school district and children’s activities and what our local businesses offer for different ages and age groups. I think that people have faith in what we offer, because we endorse those products, and it has a little more weight to it than just finding something on the Internet.
Do you have any specific projects on tap for your first year as director?
We have our business showcase on April 22 at Novella’s in New Paltz from 1-5:30 p.m. The showcase is open to the public; anyone can attend and there’s no charge for non-members. It’s an opportunity for our business owners to set up shop for a day and people attending the event can get some one-on-one time with the business owners or their employees. They’re able to have a conversation and walk away with marketing materials, and we’ll have four speakers: [Ulster County Executive] Mike Hein, [leadership consultant] Laura Finestone from VIA (Vision in Action) Associates, Brian Tietje from LinkedIn and Harold King, executive director at Council of Industry [a nonprofit organization representing manufacturing firms]. Afterward, we’ll have a mixer for our members, to exchange business cards and get ideas.
We have our challenge run on Father’s Day every year, we have the Taste of New Paltz every September, and I hope to add a Family Fun Day where Chamber members can spend the day with their families. On July 30 we’re sponsoring a Hudson Valley Renegades baseball game; local business owners can purchase tickets online to the game, enjoy time with other members, have a hot dog and see fireworks that night. Then on September 12 we’re going to Hurd’s Family Farm for hayrides, the cow train and apple picking.
You’re called the New Paltz ‘Regional’ Chamber; how far does your reach extend?
We use the term ‘regional’ because we’re not just pigeon-holed in New Paltz; businesses in Milton, Modena, Highland, even Kingston find it beneficial to belong to this Chamber for good networking opportunities. It gets business owners out; it gets them face time, and shaking hands is invaluable.
More information is available at the Chamber’s Visitor Center, 257 Main Street in New Paltz, or by calling (845) 255-0243 or visiting www.newpaltzchamber.org.