County chamber of commerce gets new head

MIDDLEBURY — Sue Hoxie smiled when asked how long it took her to apply for the top administrative spot at the Addison County Chamber of Commerce after former President Andy Mayer tendered his resignation last September.
“I called the board chairman maybe five minutes after Andy resigned,” Hoxie said during an interview on Tuesday.
It seemed a logical career progression for Hoxie, who joined the county chamber on July 2008 as its marketing and communications director. Hoxie had been living in Harvard, Mass., marketing for the high-tech industry. She and her now-husband, David Surprenant, were ready for a change of pace and some new challenges. It was a move that Hoxie has never regretted.
“I love it,” Hoxie said of her work at the chamber. “I like the variety of it. There’s always something different going on. I like the fact that with a lot of the things I do, I feel like I can impact the community. Having been in a larger community and the high-tech industry, you definitely did not get that sense. You are marketing some very obscure piece of software that somebody is putting on a shelf.”
Hoxie’s duties until now have included organizing chamber events — such as the annual Maple Run (a half marathon) and Gran Fondo (a four-gap, 100-plus-mile road bike ride) — as well as helping members promote their businesses. As the new president of what will be a leaner chamber, Hoxie will take on some added responsibilities, including budgeting, doing payroll and recruiting new members.
Hoxie took on those responsibilities upon being named interim president last fall after Mayer left to lead a chamber in Washington State, noted Shawn Oxford, chairman of the Addison County Chamber board.
“Sue stepped up,” Oxford said of Hoxie. “She has certainly proven herself worthy of the position and has really done a great job.”
He said Hoxie’s recent performance gave the board confidence that she was the right person to lead the organization into the future. So the board took a pass on a full-blown candidate search and offered Hoxie the job last week. She accepted, and is taking on the day-to-day challenges of leading the chamber in a more austere financial climate that has been created, in large part, by a transition in the state’s health insurance system.
Vermont recently established “Vermont Health Connect,” a health insurance exchange mandated by the federal Affordable Care Act. The creation of this exchange put an end to the chamber’s ability to offer health insurance products to its members. The fallout? A 20-percent reduction in members for most of the state’s Chambers of Commerce, including Addison County’s, according to Hoxie.
“Some of our members were members only to have access to the health insurance,” she said.
Fewer members (there are currently around 450) has meant less dues that help support and sustain the chamber’s activities. Around half of the county chamber’s annual budget is derived from dues; the other half comes from revenues generated by around a half-dozen special events the chamber organizes each year, such as the Better Late Than Never Car Show, Vergennes Day and the Bristol Harvest Festival.
A couple of decades ago, the county chamber had a staff of approximately 10 full-time workers. Current staffing consists of Hoxie, full-time office manager Maria Benoit, and Pam Freilich, a part-time customer service representative.
“I am really happy with the team of people we have right now,” Hoxie said.
It’s a team that Hoxie stressed will have to clearly articulate what the chamber benefits are to current and prospective members. She described the chamber’s core services as enhancing “credibility, visibility, networking and supports” for the business community. That includes helping new businesses set up shop; directing tourists to those businesses; and giving members access to the latest travel and tourism-related information. To that end, the county chamber is partnering with the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber (LCRC). The LCRC is offering an e-learning product for its members, as well as its regular legislative report that notes bills of interest to the business community. Those amenities can now be offered to Addison County Chamber members, Hoxie noted.
Looking into the near future, Hoxie’s primary goal for the local chamber is to retain current members and attract new ones. She said the organization will also take a look at its signature annual events to phase out some that have perhaps run their course while replacing them with new offerings that might generate added excitement and revenues. For example, the chamber is organizing a citywide yard sale in Vergennes this summer.
“We will focus on keeping the members happy and introducing new programs where they make sense,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

Share this story:

More News

Bernard D. Kimball, 76, of Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Bernard D. Kimball, 76, passed away in Bennington Hospital on Jan. 10, 2023. … (read more)

News Uncategorized

Fresh Air Fund youths returning to county

The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)

Obituaries Uncategorized

Mark A. Nelson of Bristol

BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)

Share this story: