'Keeping things together': New Chamber head puts local biz first during pandemic

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Debbie Brown

Debbie Brown

ELKTON — Cecil County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Debbie Brown is one of those people whose experience makes her an ideal Chamber director, and she said that working for the chamber for the last 2 ½ years has been a truly rewarding experience.

Brown was named the executive director of the chamber in March by the chamber’s board of directors, replacing former director Bonnie Grady.

In that time Brown and chamber Director of Events and Communications Katie Lewis have had to face a global pandemic’s effects on the local economy and have continued to focus on the needs of members in face of the crisis.

Brown has some experience dealing with crises.

No stranger to adversity

Brown, a native of Brevard County, Florida, was an employee of Grumman Aerospace, now Northrup Grumman on Jan 28, 1986 when she witnessed the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster first-hand as she was standing near the countdown clock at Kennedy Space Center on that fateful day.

“I saw a lot of changes after that,” Brown said. “The program faced a downward economy for 10 years, it was the first time I had seen big layoffs at the Kennedy Space Center.”

Following that tragic incident, Brown married and moved to Seattle where she joined her husband working for Boeing in the aerospace field. Over the years Brown has had many experiences that helped develop her knowledge to the extent that working for the chamber made sense.

Brown said she has worked in real estate and after a move to Pennsylvania worked for 10 years in the West Chester School District performing a variety of technological and administrative tasks. Following that experience she worked for 10 years with State Farm doing claims and later transitioned into an agent handling sales. For the last two and half years she has been with the Chamber, first as director of member services and now as executive director.

‘I love the small community feel’

“I love it,” Brown said of her experience in Cecil County. “What I love about Cecil County is it is similar in many ways to Florida. You have rural areas, the water and the warmth of the people. I just love the small community feel.”

She said during her time with the Chamber she has become a true believer in everything the organization stands for and she said that she and Lewis are a potent team that works very well together.

“We both really respect each other and the talents that we bring to our roles,” Brown said. “She (Lewis) is the heart, strength and soul of the chamber.”

Lewis also had words of praise for Brown.

“I am very happy and our members are very lucky that Debbie has become our executive director,” Lewis said. “She is dedicated to our members and cares deeply for those in our community.

Brown said one of her primary goals as chamber director is to continue to work closely with Cecil County Office of Economic Development Director Chris Moyer and his staff to build positive relationships with businesses and to grow the organization as the county continues to experience growth.

Reimagining events

“Some of the things that have impacted us the most are our March and April events,” she said, noting that normally the group hosts a Legislative Wrap-Up breakfast following the end of the general assembly’s session, as well as the annual business spotlight luncheon where businesses are able to share significant accomplishments over the last year.

There won’t be a luncheon, but Brown said that Lewis has put together a program and collected all the relevant information and photos from those businesses that had accomplishments and she hopes that the program can be hand delivered to businesses in the community so that those accomplishments can still be shared.

Also, due to restrictions mandated due to the pandemic the Chamber was not able to host its annual picnic where the annual community guide is distributed. However, the chamber has arranged for curbside pickup and other means to get the guides to area businesses.

“We are finding clever and creative ways to do what we do,” Brown said referencing events like the popular virtual mingle that the group has created in lieu of face-to-face member get-togethers.

“They (businesses) like that we are keeping things together,” Brown said.

While the coronavirus pandemic has modified some aspects of the Chamber’s day to day business, Brown said the group is still pressing on in a variety of ways. While some events have been cancelled or changed, others are being moved to the late summer or fall in the hopes they can still occur. One is the chamber’s annual golf tournament which was scheduled to be help on May 7, but has now been moved to August in the hopes it can be held at that time.

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