Monthly luncheons with guest speakers, like the one at Novella’s on February 11 featuring St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital CEO Joan Cusack-McGuirk, have long been a popular tradition for the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce (NPRCC). That’s not one of the things that Kathy Prizzia wanted to revamp when she stepped in as NPRCC director one year ago. But Prizzia has already begun to make her mark, including a successful expansion initiative that “increased membership 22 percent in Year One,” she says.
“It has been a great learning year, getting experience under my belt, and a chance to reconnect with the business community in New Paltz,” says Prizzia, the former proprietor of the restaurant 36 Main who spent the intervening few years working for Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland. “When I started, the director position had been open for seven weeks, so I had a chance to take things from scratch.”
While networking is still the name of the game, and “The structure of the monthly programs has not changed,” Prizzia says, not every potential NPRCC member can or wishes to attend, and she is making it one of her goals to recruit such holdouts. “There’s a perception that if you don’t attend events, there’s not a value in Chamber membership.”
Nothing could be further from the truth, in her view. Online communication and social media are becoming ever more important tools for connecting businesses with customers and with one another. “Technology has changed so much. The Chamber is its own business, and so has to be an innovator,” says Prizzia. “We have a very powerful website. Let’s say someone in Brooklyn wants to go apple-picking and wants to know where to stay in New Paltz, where to eat, which B & B accepts dogs. They can use our links and Google Maps to plan their visit.”
Many Chamber members are now using Facebook pages to post upcoming events and special discount offers, she notes. “I’d say about 80 percent are now on board with social media. It helps them keep their audience and customer based engaged.” Under Prizzia’s leadership, the NPRCC has just taken the next step toward maximizing the potential of the digital revolution: The organization’s twice-weekly member newsletter has just switched over from print format to video — “the first-ever video newsletter of any Chamber in the mid-Hudson,” she claims.
To help other businesses employ the new technologies to promote themselves better, the NPRCC is currently working with Luminary Media to roll out a series of four marketing classes this spring. And to bring in a new generation of budding entrepreneurs, Prizzia has been “working to integrate the business community with SUNY New Paltz, to acquaint students with what a business does.” The partnership is setting up internships and “shadowing” days for students, and members of the Management Club at the SUNY New Paltz School of Business are volunteering to help startup businesses in the community to write marketing plans or do strategic planning. A Business Showcase on campus is scheduled for April 20.
Other community partnerships have been blossoming under Prizzia’s leadership as well, including not-for-profit organizations. Just this week, the Chamber co-sponsored a Women of Wisdom gathering at Deyo Hall at Historic Huguenot Street, featuring Christine Hein, executive director of the Kingston soup kitchen People’s Place, as the guest speaker. The New Paltz Rescue Squad is hosting regular mixers at which Chamber members learn hands-only CPR techniques. “Our goal is to have an AED [automated external defibrillator] on every block on Main Street,” says Prizzia.
Perhaps the most successful so far of these outreach efforts has been the 2015 Christmas tree-lighting event, jointly organized this time by the Chamber, Historic Huguenot Street and the New Paltz Dutch Reformed Church. “It had ten times more attendance than the previous year,” Prizzia reports, though she concedes that warmish weather undoubtedly helped with the turnout. The successful partnership with the Huguenot Street community-based organizations will continue, she says. “We need to take it to the next level: connecting as a community. Everyone is working very hard, but they’re not working together.”
Expect such innovative new approaches to keep being introduced as time goes by, but for the NPRCC’s core mission to remain the same. Ultimately, says Prizzia, “My number-one job is to help members with their businesses. What is keeping you up at night about your business? Call me!”