Chamber's interim leader eager to listen

Calder wants to continue working with members, strengthening programs

January 21, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Kara Calder is taking the reins of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce with her ears open.

After working for the 33-year-old organization for two years, she is familiar with its programs and its legislative agenda, but now she is about to get more familiar with its members.

"We need to focus more than ever on service to our members," she said. "My commitment is to listen to our members and find out what they want out of their opportunities with the chamber."

Calder, executive vice president of the organization, was tapped last week to temporarily lead the chamber after President Ken Williams announced his resignation, effective Feb. 10. He will become vice president for commercial accounts with Buc$ Federal Bank.

Although these years are Calder's first working with a chamber -- she has held positions as executive director of a children's museum and director of communications for a tourism bureau in upstate New York -- she said she feels strongly that her interim position could become permanent.

"I'm pleased that [the board of directors] has already chosen to look within," Calder said. "I think that shows a confidence in me that they have."

The board has not made a decision, but Chairman Michael Galeone said the group might not have to look far.

"We're pretty high on Kara," he said. "She has a lot of leadership qualities that have grown under Ken. If you look at her background, she brings depth and some qualifications."

The board has not set a deadline for naming Williams' permanent successor, but Galeone said he thinks it should be within 90 days. That will give Calder "the opportunity to sit in the command chair and get acclimated," he said.

"She wants to do this, and I'm fully of the belief that she is capable of doing it," Galeone said. "When someone grooms someone for a position and that person wants to accept the job, that's a good thing."

Calder succeeding Williams as president and chief executive officer would follow a pattern the two seem to have established.

Calder came to the chamber in 1999 at Williams' urging. The two met in upstate New York, where he was president of a chamber of commerce and she was in charge of communications for the Ontario County Tourism Bureau.

Williams called her about working for him soon after he was hired in Howard County.

"He said, `If you're willing to move to Maryland, there's this up-and-coming chamber -- and have I got a position for you,'" Calder said.

Calder joined the Howard chamber as legislative liaison and was promoted to executive vice president in September.

She has been part of the leadership team that carried out initiatives set by Williams.

During his tenure, the chamber has established and expanded several programs, such as Business Community Partners and Small Business Development Partners, both of which raise money from local businesses to help fund chamber activities. Contributions to the two programs grew to $125,000 last year and are a significant part of the organization's budget, Williams said.

The chamber also has developed several technological tools, including the Internet-based Howard Job Link employment board and My Sounding Board, a private discussion group that allows members to chat and share documents.

Under Williams, the chamber has worked to link the business community with educators and students through initiatives that include the Passport to Education program and the Share Time and Read program. Those help students develop habits and skills for the workplace.

The organization has worked with the public school system to help lure teachers to the county by urging businesses to offer discounts and incentives to educators.

Late last year, the chamber set up the Workforce Development and Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that helps the chamber fund some of its work force development and education programs.

The chamber also started using new methods for keeping up with its 900 members.

Calder said her only immediate goal is to improve and sharpen those programs. New efforts will have to wait, she said.

"I'm 100 percent committed to making sure these programs achieve and grow the way we intended them to," she said. "I want to be sure any project or programs are well managed so that we continue the progress."

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