Home Fairfield Stamford Chamber of Commerce returning to prominence under Heather Cavanagh

Stamford Chamber of Commerce returning to prominence under Heather Cavanagh

From left: Heather Cavanagh, Gov. Ned Lamont and Joseph Baiocco, partner at Stamford law firm Wilson Elser, at the Stamford Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting on Sept. 26. Photo by Bernie Weiss

Having undertaken a somewhat bumpy ride over the past few years, the Stamford Chamber of Commerce is now on much more solid footing, thanks almost entirely to the efforts of President and CEO Heather Cavanagh.

That she’s done it in a little over a year stands as a testament to her being “a ball of energy,” said Chamber Treasurer David Cingari, owner of David’s Soundview Catering. “She’s very positive, very into it. She’s made a huge difference.”

Cavanagh was lauded several times at the chamber’s 32nd annual meeting and awards ceremony on Sept. 26. There was a sense of excitement over what she has done to transform the perception of the chamber as a somewhat moribund organization to one that’s well-positioned to prosper.

She said the key to reinventing the organization was bringing it into the 21st century.

“Almost everything was being done by hand,” she said. “So much was being done by mail, which can lead to things not being read. Even registering someone for an event meant manually typing that information in and putting it into folders. That can be a huge cost by itself.”

The organization is in the midst of a website redevelopment and a software conversion designed to provide its roughly 1,000 members with more ease and member engagement.

“Everything is more automated,” Cavanagh said. “We’ve set up a membership portal that’s user-friendly. We’re open 24/7 now. Before we just weren’t open when people were ready to do business, at 2, 3, 4 in the morning. I know that I do a lot during off-hours.”

Bringing the Chamber’s operations up-to-date digitally was a prime motivation, Cavanagh said.

“Business was done a certain way for years, because that was the way it was always done,” she said. “When I became president and CEO in July of 2018, I realized that we needed to make certain changes to ensure a positive future.”

Jon Winkel, founder of Stamford Innovation Week and recently named executive director of the nonprofit Stamford Partnership, said: “I understand Heather has done an amazing job at The Stamford Chamber of Commerce since taking the helm. Under Heather’s leadership, the Chamber has clearly accelerated its growth as a connector and experience driver for local businesses and businesspeople.”

Before joining the chamber as director of events and marketing in November 2016, Cavanagh spent time as the executive director of the Westport and the Darien chambers — experiences she said have been invaluable as she reinvents the Stamford group.

“It’s certainly not a 9-to-5 job,” the Stamford resident said, noting that her tenure has included three moves — its current address at 970 Summer St. “is hopefully the last one” — and that she’s basically been a one-woman show. Events and Communications Coordinator Ivan Rodriguez and Office Manager Valeria Ochoa work part-time. Bookkeeping is being outsourced, also on a part-time basis, to Brenda Williams.

Cavanagh’s work also includes an ever-expanding number of events, including “Pink Fest,” an Oct. 2 event at Stamford Ford Lincoln, a portion of whose proceeds went to Stamford Health’s breast cancer treatment initiative. It drew about 120 people.

“She’s not doing events just to be doing events,” Cingari said. “It’s not just, ‘Ooh, let’s do a cocktail party.’ Participation has been higher, the energy in the room is better and she’s putting money in the bank.”

The group is also conducting a survey of young professionals as part of its HYPE — “Helping Young Professionals Excel” — outreach in order “to find out what their interests are, what’s important to them,” Cavanagh said. “We want to get people more engaged in what’s going on in Stamford, which is booming. We want to be all-inclusive, to grow and diversify, which is what we need to do to position us for the future.”

While HYPE is targeting the under-40 crowd, she said she hoped over-40s would serve as mentors.

Cavanagh believes the chamber can also play a key part in bringing tourists to the city. “We get a lot of calls about tourism, about things to do here,” she said.

“People ask me all the time how I do it,” Cavanagh laughed. “You just do it.”


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